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Review: The Village

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M. Night Shyamalan‘s The Village, while not a bad film by any stretch, suffers because of the reputation of its director: if you’ve seen any of his previous movies, you know that at some point there’s going to come a pretty major plot twist, most likely in the last reel of the movie. And if you know there’s a twist coming, it’s hard to lose yourself in the here-and-now of the film–you’re always waiting for the reveal and looking out for clues instead of simply soaking the movie in. It’s Audience-as-Detective instead of Audience-as-Spectator, which makes for a totally different experience.

The Village (2004)
Grade: B-
Written and Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix Bryce Dallas Howard Adrien Brody William Hurt Sigourney Weaver
Studio: Touchstone Pictures

That experience doesn’t have to be a bad one, of course, but in the case of The Village it turns out to be somewhat less than ideal. If I say at this point that there’s a plot twist or two along the way, I doubt that would come as any real surprise; unforunately, the twists themselves aren’t surprising, either. There are, by my estimation, four events in the movie that could count as a twist, but only one of them really caught me off-guard. The big one at the end, while perhaps not telegraphed, certainly couldn’t have been much of a shock to anyone paying attention both to the movie and to our society at large. Shyamalan also throws a couple too many Macguffins into the plot, as if he realizes that the audience is onto him by now.

The Village does have one surprising reveal, however, and her name is Bryce Dallas Howard. Don’t be fooled by Joaquin Phoenix‘s name coming at the top of the credits–this movie is Howard’s all the way. She could have relied on her character’s blindness as a crutch, as an easy way to gain the audience’s sympathies, but she doesn’t. Her Ivy has more strength, courage, heart and depth of emotion than any other of Shyamalan’s characters to date. Howard isn’t traditionally pretty in that way we expect our ingenues to be–she looks far too much like her father for that–but she lights up the screen and commands attention in virtually every frame she’s in. This movie should be just the first step in a bright career for her.

The rest of the cast, however, is wasted. They all perform to the best of their considerable abilities, but Shyamalan simply doesn’t give them enough to do. He’s formed a supporting cast with actors as talented as Phoenix, William Hurt, Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson and Judy Greer, but only Hurt and Brody gets any meat to their parts (and Brody’s is really just the kind of showy mentally-challenged role so usually loved by Oscar).

As always, Shyamalan’s sense of visual style shines through. His camerawork (with the ever-excellent cinematographer Roger Deakins) remains strong, crafting gorgeous compositions painted mainly with yellows, oranges and browns (as in The Sixth Sense, the color red takes on special significance here and is used sparingly). His camera frequently seems to catch the characters in private moments and hangs back from them, making us feel like we’re listening in on conversations we’re really not supposed to be hearing, or focuses not on the character speaking but on the one being spoken to. I’d love to see what Shyamalan could do with a straight drama, or with any movie where he wasn’t quite so worried about trying to trick his audience.

Written by Allen

March 6th, 2005 at 11:51 pm

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