February 4, 2005 -- Poor M. Night Shyamalan (well actually he's rich). He started out as a Hollywood wunderkind with his marvelous first film, “The Sixth Sense,” but every film he's made since then has been slightly worse than the last. “The Village” continues this steady downward spiral. It is not a bad film, despite its goofy plot, thanks to top-flight acting. Shyamalan got real Hollywood A-list acting talent for this film, as well as a promising newcomer.
This ponderous, slow-moving, low-energy dramatic puzzle struggles mightily to get off the ground for a long time. The story takes place in an isolated utopian village circa late 1800s. The village is peaceful, but the forests surrounding the village are inhabited by terrifying creatures. The creatures are attracted to the color red. The villagers avoid using this color and employ guards to sound the alarm if creatures enter the village.
One villager, Lucius Hunt (played by Joaquin Phoenix of “Gladiator”), becomes obsessed with the idea of going beyond the forbidden forest to other villages, where he may find medicines to treat the village sick. There is also a romance between Phoenix and a radiant blind girl, Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard of “Book of Love.” She's the promising newcomer I mentioned). A tragic event in the village spurs an unprecedented action among the village elders. The forest creatures begin to attack animals in the village. Some of the elders fear the village may not survive what comes next.
The film has excellent performances all around, especially by Bryce Howard. Phoenix is always good and William Hurt of “Tuck Everlasting,” is another dependable, and underrated actor. He gives a stirring speech at the end which almost awakens the film from its low-key slumber. Another good performance is given by Adrien Brody, who won the best-actor academy award for “The Pianist.” Other fine performances in the film are given by Sigourney Weaver of “Holes” and Brendan Gleeson of “Cold Mountain.”
Known for his twisted endings in his other films, “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable” for instance, Shyamalan puts a twist in this film, too, but it isn't hard to see this one coming. It isn't a bad film, just not as entertaining as Shamalyn's last few films. The drama is pretty low-key and the story is not as compelling as his other films, either. It works, but after it is all over, you don't really feel all that satisfied by it. This film rates a C+.
This film has caused a huge split among film critics. Some put it on their list of the best films of the year, others put it on their list of the worst films of the year. I don't think it belongs on either top 10 or bottom 10 lists. There are plenty of better and worse films. I think most Shyamalan fans (and he has a lot of incredibly devoted fans, even among critics) will be disappointed in this effort. I think it is time for Shyamalan to cut out the gimmicks and concentrate on a solid, believable story about the real world. He's a fine director and he can handle actors well, but the screenplays he writes are getting more predictable and more unbelievable.
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