Glass, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, might possibly be the filmmakers best work to date (with Unbreakable or Signs being its primary competition). With a meaningful focus on characters, a competency with the camera that hasn’t always been there, and a noticeable cinematic growth by Shyamalan; Glass ends up being one of the most compelling films and experience from a director who has often struggled to deliver on the vision he seems to have in his head. For the first time in a very long time, I’m excited to be talking about and reviewing an M. Night Shyamalan film, so let’s get to it.
Following on from the events of Unbreakable and Split; Kevin Wendall Crumb (the Horde) – played by James McAvoy – is still loose and seeking sacrifices for ‘The Beast’. David Dunn – played by Bruce Willis – who we last saw in 2000’s ‘Unbreakable’ is seeking Kevin, with the hopes of stopping his rampage. However, both are captured and put into a mental institution by Dr. Ellie Staple – played by Sarah Paulson – who holds the belief that both Kevin, David, and also Elijah Price – played by Samuel L. Jackson – are not in fact superhuman and instead have a very particular condition that makes them the way they are. Who is right and what consequences will come from having three such powerful individuals in one location?
Why I think Glass was as compelling as it was and drew me in and had me completely engrossed in what it was offering, was that first and foremost, it is a character focused and character driven film, and it’s because of that why I think it might be one of Shyamalan’s best. This film’s predecessors; Unbreakable and Split both had qualities that made parts of them good. With Unbreakable it was the concept and Bruce Willis’ best performance on camera (and a few other elements, but this is a Glass review, not an Unbreakable review, despite me really wanting to talk about it right now having just seen it and Glass so close together), and with Split it was the astonishing work by James McAvoy, who without, that film would surely not receive the praise it currently does. But with both those films, there were issues (some being extremely problematic issues) that held them back from reaching their full potential. However, with Glass, that isn’t necessarily the case.
Glass melds the best qualities of both Unbreakable and Split, while doing away with what held those films back, and it results in not only the best film of the trilogy (with Unbreakable following very, very close behind it) but it also results in some of Shyamalan’s best work as a filmmaker (which is something I never thought would end up happening).
And so, while there is a lot of growth from Shyamalan as a filmmaker in this film (growth that I’ll be exploring in a moment) it is the handling and development of his three characters that make this film shine. You see, with M. Night Shyamalan, you always have the problem of: he’s clearly capable at directing films, but it’s often in his writing that his films fall apart. Wonky, unnatural dialogue that causes the tone of the film to change wildly, bizarre and often unnecessary plot twists that feel more like a director playing into the expectations of the audience, rather than doing what’s right for the film, and bizarre plot holes and coincidences that undercut his narrative and remove you completely from the experience. These being just a few examples.
With Glass though, these issues either don’t occur or are handled in a way that for once actually work the film (with there being one or two exceptions that do lessen the impact of certain moments or cause an eye roll to occur).
What this all means is that when you strip away the shortcomings that plague so many of Shyamalan’s films, he’s able to produce something extremely engaging and extremely memorable. When the three main characters are brought together and then all given the character of Dr. Ellie Staple to bounce off of; you get a character focused experience of significance and potency.
The development that occurs for the film’s three primary characters results in a deeply meaningful evolution for them all, and also a fitting conclusion to their stories. And what made the character’s journeys all the better was the outstanding work by the actors. Samuel L. Jackson, who as always delivers, no matter the quality of the film. Bruce Willis, who much to my surprise, shows up and acts. It’s been a while since it seemed like Willis cared about the film he was in or the performance he was giving, but in Glass he more than delivers on a character and a film he clearly cares about.
And then there’s James McAvoy who is astonishing to watch. His ability to switch between so many characters in such a short amount of time is something to be in awe of. What’s even more impressive is how he is able to make the characters recognisable through his body language and seemingly endless voices. I remember one point in particular when he shifted into another one of the many personalities inside Kevin Wendall Crumb, and before he even spoke, I was able to distinguish who it was purely from the body language. To me, that highlighted just how talented and effective an actor McAvoy is, that he could make each of the personalities so familiar, simply through his physicality.
I can see some people not being as enamoured with the films strict focus on its characters, which takes up a majority of the film’s time, but for me, it was what had me so engrossed. The questions that were posed about the abilities they had, and also the dynamic between the three of them, had me eager to sit there and go deeper into the psyche of each. They are all very distinct individuals, and the performances echo that, and I think it’s a testament to Shyamalan who did a great job of balancing all three and making sure each had their time to shine on-screen. These characters are so rich in what makes them who they are, that I’m considering doing a whole separate piece, dissecting each of them.
But the actors and the characters also had the benefit of a director who had a clear vision of how he wanted his character to appear and develop on-screen and it results in a collaboration that gives the best of all those involved. You see, while the actors were putting their all into producing richly nuanced performances; Shyamalan was putting his all into making sure the film complimented their efforts and furthered the range of their work.
Because looking at Glass, this seems to be the most technically effective and efficient work Shyamalan has ever produced. What shines through is that Shyamalan has clearly known for a long time the direction he wanted to take this trilogy of films and because of that he’s been able to tinker with all the little details for longer than he might have expected.
For example: the positioning and the intent of the camera is so much clearer in this film – compared to Unbreakable where it felt like a director experimenting with cool shots but having no clear consistency with how the camera should communicate what’s happening on-screen. Or you look at how colour is used so prominently to distinguish the characters and also speak for them in some scenes. For example, scenes in which the beast is unleashed and in a position of power, the primary colour in the scene is yellow, but scenes where Elijah is enacting his plan and having the beast act as his protector, it is purple that dominates the moment. And colour is used in all types of ways for conveying the intent of a scene or perhaps where actions may lead by the end of them.
It’s direction like this, coupled with everything else the film does so well, why I think this might one of Shyamalan’s best. Is the film perfect? No. There are still some issues that pop up and knock the film off it’s perfectly spinning axis; the final showdown for example, which feels drawn out and has a few revelations that undercut what had come before in terms of the characters and their development. It’s the final act where the characters take a back seat and Shyamalan tried to inject an unnecessarily forced plot, which muddled things and pulled focus away from an ending which should have been much simpler and more focused on the characters we had committed so much time too. It was only in the third act that I found myself wavering from the film, as all I wanted was a conclusion that fit what had come before and saw it’s three main characters sent off in a way that felt fitting.
Shyamalan also once again does the tragic thing of putting himself in his film; something I think no director should do, unless you’re Alfred Hitchcock and have earned the right to do such a thing.
But, unlike many of Shyamalan’s films, these issues don’t overwhelm the film. They don’t pile up and inevitably sink it. Glass as a film… as an experience, is able to overcome them and go onto deliver something I found effective and wholly engrossing.
And so, for the first time in what must be a while, I am recommending an M. Night Shyamalan film. I recommend you go see, Glass. Why I stated that twice and why it’s odd for me to be recommending his films is because in the past I’ve either insisted you avoid his newest film or given them a passing recommendation but with very little to no enthusiasm about having people actually see it. With Glass though, this is a film I’m enthusiastic to recommend, and is a film I think is well worth your time and money. I hope you too find as much enjoyment and meaningful fulfilment as I did with Glass. Happy movie watching folks!
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