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For a film that has been trashed as a potential “career killer” and an unsatisfying note to what is shockingly a trilogy, the entire press in Atlanta seemed to trudge into the screening of “Glass” with little to no expectations. And when I eventually came out of the theater with all 129 minutes fulfilled, my impressions of the film couldn’t be any more shocking. “Glass” is a wonderful film that takes bold, new risks with its characters that heightens its thematic material.
As a filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan proves that he is interested in not just developing a fantastic roster of characters, but also in divulging a revealing story that has a conclusion that leans heavily on integrated themes and symbolism. And by the very end, Shyamalan also proves that if it benefits the story, he will heartily make bold decisions with his already-loved cast of characters, from James McAvoy’s devilishly charming performance as Kevin Wendell Crumb to returning Bruce Willis (as David Dunn/“The Overseer”) and Samuel L. Jackson (as Elijah Price/“Mr. Glass”) from “Unbreakable.”
In this regard, it’s hard not to see why “Glass” could turn off so many fans and critics and cause them to eject far too soon. But I found the film immensely enjoyable and satisfying even if it started to feel cluttered as it heads into the third act. Shyamalan is a master of suspenseful storytelling, blending dynamic sequences with his three main leads that are fascinating to watch in a profound way. And just the sheer shock and joy of seeing Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and James McAvoy in their iconic roles back on the screen is more than enough to warrant a watch. Burdened by a stiff middle portion of endless monologues from Sarah Paulson (as Dr. Ellie Staple), “Glass” is still able to propel itself past its naysayers into something new and fresh.
Taking place after both “Unbreakable” and “Split,” train crash survivor David Dunn is a local vigilante, using his abilities or “gifts,” as repeatedly labeled by Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass, to contribute to society as best as he can. This path leads him to James McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb, a haunting man who can portray up to 24 personalities. Saying any more about the plot would potentially ruin the experience, since “Glass” is chock full of surprises for every Shyamalan fan. However, although the film has tricks up its sleeves, the real backbone of the storyline is rather misguided and pompous.
The majority of the 129-minute feature is spent at one location – the Riverhead Asylum, most likely due to the film’s budget restrictions. And such a restriction is clearly shown. For a film that was projected to open with an astounding 50 million on its opening weekend, the fact that Universal couldn’t afford pumping anything more than 20 million into its production budget perplexes me. And even more than serving as a confusing decision, it damages the film significantly. It constrains Shyamalan into having to constantly cycle through philosophical monologue sequences from Paulson’s Dr. Ellie Staple.
These sequences aren’t anything unique or dynamic. They are stiff, under-baked, and each line is derivative of the last one. Halfway through the film, she had quickly maintained a position as the most frustratingly dull character in the entire film, a strange combination given the unique qualitative perks that each of the three main leads have.
But outside of Paulson (who respectfully did the best she could with the material provided) the cast is fantastic. The clear stand-out is McAvoy who continues his stride of dark humor and creepy moments of tension-based horror with his 24 personalities. It will surely rank as one of the best performances of the year and will hopefully make up for the snubbing of his work in 2017’s “Split.” Just his presence in a scene is felt and McAvoy has truly disappeared behind this role.
As for “Unbreakable” stars Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, both have had a somewhat declining career as of late, with both resorting to overly-glorified action flicks. But it’s clear that they both still have the acting chops that made them so iconic in the first place. Willis may not have much to do in the film, outside of being a “reluctant hero” to sway the audience’s perspective. But he still has a reminiscent magic that is remarkably similar to his work in “Unbreakable.”
Jackson brings a slyness to his character, a trait made all the more apparent by the fact that he barely mutters a word for the first half of the film. From his facial expressions to subtle eye-fluttering, Jackson never hesitates when delivering immaculate details.
Film scores are consistently a strong point in Shyamalan’s films. Here, West Dylon Thordson’s music is brilliant and completely effective. Using ticking percussion comparable to Hans Zimmer’s work in 2017’s “Dunkirk,” Thordson’s music helps maintain the slow burn that the script has at its essence. And outside of the conclusion, where the score unfortunately devolves into a standard, comic-book third act soundtrack, Thordson does an excellent job of complementing the story and its engaging messages and events, without ever outshining it.
Ultimately, in the end, Shyamalan’s “Glass” is a risky gamble that will surely not be to everybody’s liking. Its ending will certainly leave some fans disappointed, as “Glass” neither is (or tries to be) the film that so many people expected it to be. Underplaying its traditional superhero roots and exploring the psychological aspects of its characters is fascinating, however, and Shyamalan as both a writer and director handles it masterfully. Score: 8.2 out of 10.