Friday, July 21, 2006

Lady in the Water

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Warner Bros.

Shyamalan returns after what could be considered the lowest point of his career, The Village, which was a hit but not the kind of hit that people actually liked. It made a great deal of its final gross in the opening weekend and just died afterwards. People for the most part were unimpressed by the narrative with the twist ending that I swore was the basis for the whole movie in the first place--2 hours of waiting for the twist. In the meantime, however, I could still appreciate that the guy behind the camera knew how to film the proceedings whether the story grabbed me or not.

And that's why I still get pumped to see a Shyamalan movie, even though before this one he had a 50-50 success rate with me--after the great Sixth Sense and Unbreakable came the (again) well-filmed but unsatisfying Signs and the aforementioned Village. Lady in the Water, I feel, is a fine return to form.

Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is an apartment superintendent who goes about his business, rather poorly I might add, but serviceable, at a small-town sort of complex around Philadelphia. During the masterful beginning, a new tenant has arrived in the form of film critic Harry Farber (Bob Balaban, who recalls his old "Seinfeld" days and is very funny), and Heep shows him around the complex. This is Shyamalan's way of introducing us to a great many important characters, laying the foundation for his "bedtime story."

Included in the pack of tenants is brother Vick Ran (Shyamalan) and sister Anna (Sarita Choudury) and crossword aficionado Mr. Dury (the always excellent Jeffrey Wright), a bunch of stoners, a guy named Reggie (Freddy Rodriguez) who works only one side of his body so that his right arm is huge and his left arm is noticeably small in comparison, and an Asian daughter (Cindy Cheung) with her mom (June Kyoto Lu), among others. We hear that Heep has suspicion someone has been swimming in the pool after hours--we all know its our title character played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

She comes from another world, but she surfaces at great risk to herself and others--normally unseen creatures which look like huge, rabid dogs want her dead. Why? And several of the humans who live at the complex have untapped powers who can help her get back to her world. How will this be possible? And the rules set up to protect her kind are being broken at great risk to the attackers' own lives by even more evil creatures than themselves. The key to her survival lies within stories humans have told each other for ages, which brings me to probably the most annoying aspect of the whole movie--the only one who knows the story is the Asian mom, and she is only willing to tell the story to Heep in pieces (translated through her daughter). It's forgivable, so I'll move on.

If I had to describe this movie, comparing it to others, I would say it's like The Neverending Story combined with Lord of the Rings. And when I say LOTR, with Shyamalan you know it's going to have a much more modern feel, an everyday feel. Armor-clad warriors become regular guys down the hall. Kind of like Unbreakable's take on comic books--they are superheroes and villains without the costumes and the epic action--it's almost like a fantasy bordering on the real, seeming like it could actually happen. When I mention Neverending Story, there are thematic elements that are downright scary similar--a movie which used "The Nothing" as an allegory for a bankrupt imagination, which used henchman not unlike those found in this movie to hunt down and kill mankind's only hope to save it.

Shyamalan is good at crumbling your expectations--where the movie takes you in a direction that seems logical and then pulls the rug out, and I'm not talking at the very end where his normal twist would take place--I won't to tell you whether he follows that old model or not. I'm talking about the narrative--the way things chug along and seem to be going as you would expect them to--a scene with the film critic actually discusses this very thing and Shyamalan makes a very good point with this character. Even though Farber seems to be a mere glutton for Shyamalan's punishment, he is much more than that. His words are an extention of Shyamalan's frustration as a person being judged on his creativity. It's an even more interesting philosophical discussion when you consider that Shyamalan has put himself in his movie as a writer who is fated to influence others but pay the ultimate price for his beliefs.

It's funny I discuss this area of the movie--it seems so disconnected from the trailers you have seen--isn't this just about a chick from another world trying to find her way home, with some scary moments? Sure, but it's obvious that Shyamalan has a lot more on his mind, and the movie can be discussed on so many levels--that's why I think it even requires repeat viewings to fully appreciate. And it's also why many people will find this movie to be rubbish.

The movie has his signature look--which is funny considering he doesn't ever seem to use the same cinematographer--this time it's 2046 lensman Christopher Doyle. The mood of this picture just drew me in--Giamatti drew me in. A great character actor who has carried smaller films is now the anti-star of a potential summer blockbuster--a refreshing face that carries this movie. And Howard is also very good in a role without many words. But I think this movie, at the very least, is worth checking out. It has the scares, a great finale, and even thought-provoking discussion. As you can tell, I had a hard time condensing what I wanted to say about this movie--and I think that speaks volumes about Shyamalan's latest work.


Post a Comment

<< Home