Glass

...or, 'The People v. M. Night Shyamalan.'

I finally managed to get out to see Glass. I'm going to do something a little different with this one, so bear with me. SPOILER ALERT: I will discuss the movie's contents openly in this review. You have been warned.

The Charges:

After The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the defendant was revered throughout Hollywood. His career seemed to be getting off to a promising start, and one magazine even heralded him as 'the next Spielberg.' Then audiences were underwhelmed by Signs and The Village, and distressed by The Lady in the Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender. The defendant's career took a sharp downturn, and many came to hate him as a filmmaker and avoid his films. The defendant's name became an audience turnoff, rather than a draw. As the defendant's career went on, films like The Visit and Split engaged audiences and began to alter their perceptions of him. Then the defendant announced his development of Glass. A sequel to both Unbreakable and Split, two of his more popular films, and coming at an upturn in his career, it is clear that Glass will be the final trial of the defendant, M. Night Shyamalan. This film is the culmination of the argument of whether or not the defendant is a good filmmaker.

Past Evidence:

The prosecution brings to the court's attention the films The Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. These films are all poorly received by critics and audiences, and have disappointed many people over the years. The prosecution also draws attention to the underwhelming twists in The Village and Signs, which also disappointed audiences by not being as brilliant or monumental as they were hoping for.

The defense offers the films The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, The Visit, and Split. The first two are brilliant films, beloved by critics and audiences for many years. The latter two have represented an improvement in the defendant's career, as he steered away from the 'gotcha' twist approach to filmmaking and made good, straightforward films in the horror and thriller genres. The defense also points to the great crafting of atmosphere in Signs, also seen in the defendant's other thrillers and horror films.

The Defense's Opening Argument - Simple things I liked about Glass:

In Glass, M. Night Shyamalan has made a film that he wants to make. He financed it personally, and it is a wholly director-driven film from beginning to end. It is very clear as one watches that Shyamalan has made a film that conforms to the vision he had for it. Glass unfolds just as Shyamalan wants it to, and every decision that was made was the decision that Shyamalan intended to make. The argument cannot reasonably be made that he does not recognize what he is doing with his film. He knows exactly what he is doing with it, and he has done with it exactly what he believed was best for the film.

The cinematography is gorgeous, and it works perfectly with Shyamalan's intentions. The fancy camerawork and occasional dutch angles are wonderfully artistic, and they actually serve a purpose unlike many other films nowadays. Sweeping pans and tilted cameras are often used just for the sake of using them in modern films; in contrast, Shyamalan knows what these things will accomplish, and he uses them to great effect. As in many of his other films, Shyamalan also uses color in a very striking manner. From the monochrome, faded tones of Dr. Staple and the mental hospital to the bold, varied colors of the main characters, the film's use of color is at least beautiful, even if it isn't as brilliant as it was in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.

The last simple thing that really worked for me, although it may have ultimately been contrary to the film's goals, was the strong connection with Unbreakable, one of my favorite movies. West Dylan Thordson's score employs several themes from Unbreakable's music, composed by James Newton Howard. The use of many of the same actors who played characters in Unbreakable, too, helped ground the film in that world, especially Spencer Treat Clark as Joseph. It was also remarkable how well Shyamalan incorporated several deleted scenes from Unbreakable, never before seen by the general public. These felt like a seamless part of the film, as did the perfectly cut transition from Kevin's father on the train to the original opening sequence of Unbreakable. All of these choices help the film to feel like an authentic extension of what came before, and this really improved my enjoyment of Glass considerably as I watched it.

The Prosecution's Opening Argument - Simple things I disliked about Glass:

Glass is not a perfect film. There are a few things that I felt didn't work quite like Shyamalan wanted them to. The first is the pacing. There are some major pacing issues with the film in the second act, and there are some elements that Shyamalan spends too much time on. I got tired, for example, of cycling through Kevin Crumb's different personalities in scene after scene. Don't get me wrong: watching James McAvoy do his thing is remarkably entertaining, but it gets old when the same scene occurs over and over and the same information is delivered by Kevin's different personalities.

Another flaw was in the use, or lack thereof, of the film's secondary characters - Casey, Joseph, and Mrs. Price. While the actors do a great job, and it's especially fun to watch Spencer Treat Clark do an equally great job now as he did 19 years ago, they felt for most of the film like they weren't doing enough to justify the screen time they were taking up. I get that the audience needed to be reminded that these characters were important throughout the movie, but perhaps there were better ways to incorporate them so that they had more meaningful roles to play before the climax. Maybe Joseph could have planned a breakout, only to have his hopes dashed when his plan fails. Casey could have helped him, or interacted with a friend who helped her to make sense of the things that were going on in her mind. Mrs. Price is the only one who I feel was not underused, because her scenes with Elijah made sense and went places, without repeating themselves over and over.

Lastly, I would have liked some better set-up for the secret society of clover tattoos, or whatever we're calling them. I thought when I initially saw the first clover tattoo that I was supposed to recognize it from earlier in the film and I didn't remember having seen it. It seemed to come a bit out of left field, as well - I knew that Dr. Staple couldn't just have been a psychiatrist, but that's about all the justification we have for it from the rest of the movie.

Defense Witnesses - McAvoy, Willis, Jackson, Clark, and Taylor-Joy:

One thing M. Night Shyamalan is usually very good at is getting amazing performances from his actors, particularly young ones. In both Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense, the movies relied heavily on child performers, and Shyamalan was able to get incredible and moving portrayals from the children in each. Both Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense and Spencer Treat Clark from Unbreakable went on to have reasonably successful careers, and remain good actors to this day.  Even in today's Hollywood, with the practice of using young-looking actors in their twenties to play teenagers, Shyamalan has thrived on great performances from performers such as Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke.

But Shyamalan does not just get great work from children. The adults in his movies are often very skilled, and if they are, they bring all of their skill to the table for his films. Whether it's James McAvoy's stellar if overused performance as Kevin Crumb's 23 personalities, Samuel L. Jackson's appropriately unsettling turn as Mr. Glass, or Bruce Willis showing up and giving it his all for the first time in years, Shyamalan consistently utilizes all of the talent his actors have to offer.

The Prosecution Calls the Defendant to the Stand - M. Night's case against himself:

Even as filmmakers go, M. Night Shyamalan has had an enlarged sense of his own importance in the past - see also casting himself as a brilliant writer in The Lady in the Water. He is also not a subtle filmmaker - see also casting himself as a brilliant writer in The Lady in the Water. Both of these tendencies come into play in Glass. Shyamalan's intention for this film is to make it feel like a naturally progressing story, and yet also to make you think it's one film when it's really a completely different film the whole time. All this, and the audience is supposed to leave the film both feeling satisfied and feeling like they fell for something clever and well-constructed. In short, the audience needs to walk out of the theater believing that the filmmaker was intelligent and clever for tricking them in the way that he did. It's hard not to believe that this played into Shyamalan's ego a little bit. It's also understandable that he would want to feel this way again; after all, 'the next Spielberg' is high praise, and when people love the movies you've made as much as audiences loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, it becomes hard not to get a big head about your own talent. But if audiences are underwhelmed by the twist or reversal, and they feel like it wasn't worth the fake out, it backfires by making people feel cheated instead of cleverly tricked.

The Jury Deliberates:

I'm conflicted about this film. It's very well planned out, and equally well executed. Each element is used towards Shyamalan's purpose for the film as a whole. My big question is whether or not I like that purpose. The ending is successful in that I was duly convinced I was watching one film and I was surprised when I discovered I was watching another. But did it please me or did it disappoint utterly? Lest you think I'm creating false suspense, I'm trying to figure out these questions for myself as I type these words. But I think now the jury has reached a verdict.

The Verdict:

As a film, I love Glass. It's a true Shyamalan-style movie, with a reversal (I don't think I'll call this one a twist) at the end that does successfully alter your perception of the film entirely. It's well-constructed, though not without its pacing issues, but the buildup felt right and worked for me. The movie is well-shot, well-scored, and well-acted, and all the craftsmanship present is incredible. And I think that if Unbreakable had not existed, that would have been enough to make me love the movie. Simply marketing it as a superhero epic from M. Night Shyamalan would've been enough to get me into the theater, and would also have put the expectation in my mind that the film was building to a classic superhero conclusion. In such a case, the twist would have satisfied me by giving me a different movie than I expected, and I would have loved it.

But as a sequel and a continuation of Unbreakable, I'm not quite so convinced. As I said before, Unbreakable is one of my favorite movies of all time. I think the best description of that film is 'the first act of a superhero movie,' and in that context I expected Glass to be the second and third acts. Instead I got a classic M. Night Shyamalan film, that's not what you expect it to be and tells an odd but clever story. As a film, that's what I want to see, but as a sequel to Unbreakable, it was a let-down. Because I love Unbreakable so much, I was hoping to see an epic continuation/conclusion to that story. That drew me in just like I was supposed to be drawn in, and it made the twist work to subvert my expectations just as Shyamalan intended. I didn't get the film I was expecting. That would be fine if the film I was expecting wasn't also the film I wanted. It would be fine if the film I was expecting wasn't the film I've wished could exist since the closing credits of Unbreakable first crossed my screen. It would be fine if the epic conclusion to an epic story that I was really excited to see wasn't broken and crushed, shot in the gut, and drowned in a puddle. As a film, Glass is amazing. But as a sequel, 19 years in the making, to a movie I love, it was disappointing and sad.

However, Glass has successfully proved to this court that the defendant has still got it, that he can still deliver a film that's as well made as the ones he used to make two decades ago. The jury finds the defendant not guilty.

I'm not going to rate this movie. I couldn't rate it in a way that I could completely get behind.

--
CoramDeo believes in the power of storytelling.

5 comments:

Aaron Studer said...

Very unique way of reviewing! I was curious to see if someone was going to cover Glass and what their takeaway would be. I'm not sure I get why there's so much panning from the critics on this movie. Just like you mentioned, I give Shyamalan credit for going through with the vision he wanted to see. I also adored James McAvoy in this film, he has incredible talent for being able to demonstrate which 'alter' he's playing just by the body language he conveys.

Billie Doux said...

I agree -- an interesting read and a clever way of covering a movie that has had so much conflicting press, so good job, CoramDeo.

An Honest Fangirl said...

I'm still not sure how I feel about this movie. I think, as a whole, I enjoy Shyamalan movies. Even the less stellar ones, like "Devil." It's fun for me to go through and try to guess what the trick is. But for some reason, I'm not sure if "Glass" connected with me. I left the theatre feeling disappointed.

I keep calling "Glass" a deconstruction of the superhero genre, but I don't even think it's that. To be a deconstruction, you still need to lean into those tropes to some degree. We just had a too long 2nd act where all of our main characters were in the hospital having conversations that were repetitive and meaningless. I wanted more superheroing! I wanted more interaction between the main three! I think that if I got that, I would have been satisfied by the final twist. Or, the second to last twist I guess.

But like you said, this was also just a gorgeous and well-made movie. Everyone was stellar in it. It built up an interesting world that I wouldn't mind visiting again in the future. But on an emotional level, I don't think it worked for me.

Logan Cox said...

This was an excellent and very unique review. And appropriate given the nature of this film and its filmmaker.

I personally loved this movie. It's Shymalan at his best. You can tell it's a bit of a passion project, and not just him blatantly trying to capture his own magic instead of letting it come naturally. As you said, it is certainly not perfect, but so much of it works so well that I really can just ignore its flaws and be happy. The twist(s) (reversal, or whatever you want to call it) is sure to leave a bad taste in some people's mouths, but I couldn't help but admire the balls it took to make those decisions and end it on a note like that.

If you're looking at Glass purely as a sequel to Unbreakable and a continuation of those characters and their story, then you're probably going to be disappointed. But if you're looking at it as the final film in a trilogy about this universe where comic book characters exist in the real world, with Unbreakable as the first film and Split as the second, I think it's kind of brilliant.

CoramDeo said...

Thank you for the kind comments, everyone. Logan, I agree that it's a good installment in this universe where comic book characters exist, but it still bothers me that he took all of my hopes for an epic conclusion to Unbreakable and pretty much literally drowned them in a puddle. He could at least have given David a good way to go out, a slightly more heroic one than face first in a pothole filled with water. I absolutely admire his passion and his skill, as well as the guts it took to do what he did, but man alive, it hurt me to watch that, and I don't think I've recovered fully.