Ethan Hawke is a true crime writer on the down slope who moves his wife and kids into the house where the grisly murder of another family occurred. His m.o. is to solve the case or to at least highlight the screw-ups of the authorities.
The funny thing is, he doesn’t tell his wife or two children he’s moved them into a house where grisly murders occurred, he finds Super 8 film of the grisly murders and the grisly murders of numerous other families from other areas throughout the country in the attic, his teen son is flipping out from night terrors, his lights don’t work, there are horrible thumps in the attic (and a snake and a scorpion), he sees a creepy dude in the yard who he has also seen in the Super 8 films, and his kids start drawing gruesome images of dead children. And his wife sleeps the sleep of a thousand nights, even though, during the day, she’s understandably nervous about this whole situation.
And he stays because “This could be my In Cold Blood.”
So his wife stays.
Implausible, predictable and stupid.
It is a testament to M. Night Shyamalan’s clout after The Sixth Sense that he could get such a deliberate and meditative film made. Bruce Willis is a Philadelphia security guard, an ex-jock in a crumbling marriage with Robin Wright. His son is overly attached to him, sensing in his father something special and perhaps dangerous. After Willis emerges from a horrific train wreck as the sole survivor, with nary a scratch, the son’s suspicions are confirmed by the appearance of a comic book aficionado (Samuel L. Jackson) who leads Willis to a great revelation. It’s an old movie, but to discuss it further substantively would be an injustice. Before Shyamalan became a slave to big twists and reveals that became increasingly ridiculous, from aliens who invade earth but for whom water is acid (Signs) to an eco-counterattack where trees make people commit suicide (The Happening), he could deliver some truly effective codas, and Unbreakable contains my favorite.
Great ending aside, the story is original and sophisticated, Shyamalan’s Philly locales are lovingly chosen and spooky, Willis is the perfect choice for a regular Joe who soon learns he is anything but, and Jackson projects brilliant obsession. The penultimate scene, where Willis tests his new incarnation, is one of the more frightening I’ve ever seen.
The studio and Shyamalan had to have been disappointed by the latter’s sophomore effort. While it did very well overseas, its domestic gross exceeded budget by only $15 million compared to The Sixth Sense‘s $250 million. But Shyamalan had to know that such a painstaking, personal film would not garner an expanding mass audience, even if the studio didn’t.
A barely competent remake, James Mangold’s follow-up to Walk the Line pits brutal and charming highwayman Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) against desperate and pitiful rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale). Bale is scratching a living out of the barren Arizona earth, debilitated by a war injury, harassed by a businessman who wants his land for the railroad, and scorned by a 14 year old son (Logan Lerman) who thinks his father is a coward. When his path crosses with Crowe, Bale takes the high-paying gig of joining a crew ferrying Crowe to town and on the train to justice, harried the entire way by Crowe’s gang, led by Charlie Prince (Ben Foster). Unfortunately, Bale is so stolid he borders on dull, and Crowe’s lethal charm is in short supply, though he does have a moment seducing a local barmaid.
Mangold keeps the story crisply moving and his action sequences are first-rate. While the leads don’t shine, the support is strong. Foster’s serpentine, scary right hand is matched by the crusty and seemingly indestructible Pinkerton subcontractor Peter Fonda and the precise Dallas Roberts as the main Pinkerton and leader of the endeavor.
The film, however, is nearly undone by an implausible ending wherein Crowe and Bale bond through a series of mutual confessions (Crowe’s mom abandoned him, Bales was shot by his own man in the war, and Bales’s son is sick with tuberculosis) and Crowe repents, assisting Bale in his own ferrying to the hangman’s noose.