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War of the Worlds

M Night Shyamalan's Signs

Some people look better with age. Some people look worse and some people grow unsightly ear hair, eat with their mouths open and become really eccentric. Writer, director and occasional actor, M. Night Shyamalan is becoming more and more like the latter. You can't blame him really - The Sixth Sense is a hard act to follow. After such an astounding cinematic debut, his other movies have been good but disappointing.

All of his movies utilize the supernatural to explore very real emotions like loss and sadness. The fact that Shyamalan can even think up his plot lines is an indication of his genius; however, it is getting increasingly difficult to pretend that the thin, strange stories he keeps presenting to us are examples of brilliance. People came out in droves to watch Unbreakable only to be faced with a bizarre comic book scenario. Well, with Signs it only gets weirder. Instead of super-heroes and villains you have evil aliens. What's next? Killer tomatoes?

Mel Gibson plays Graham Hess, an ex-reverend that has lost his faith after his wife is involved in an accident. He's struggling to be a single parent of two precocious children, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), so his goofy lil' brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) comes to live with them on their farm. One day they discover mysterious clearings amid their corn fields which end up throwing their own lives as well as all the lives on the planet into a whirlwind crisis of CNN 24-hour-coverage proportions.

Signs is shot in Shyamalan's typical directorial style with blue steel lighting and slow, languorous takes. The dialogue is sharp and clipped with the particular cadence of speech heard in all his films. Despite its somber tone, the movie manages to balance humor and suspense; indeed, this is the funniest of all his films. Thanks, in part, to Gibson's deliverance.

Gibson is good, but the little girl and Phoenix steal the show. She's unbelievably cute and quirky while he's sincere and dim. In all of his films, the director makes a brief cameo. They brought a certain lightness to his often heavy movies, but here he makes himself a full-fledge character. Bad move. His scenes were physically painful to watch. Mr. Shyamalan should stick to what he's good at - writing and directing - and get back behind the camera.

When I think of aliens invading the earth, I think of the X-Files, not a movie by a great director that explores faith. Shyamalan didn't need to create a war of the worlds scenario to examine this basic human experience. Sure, he could throw in some crop sightings and weird stuff to build suspense, but why go through such lengths? The "aliens" plot line distracted from the story at hand, getting you caught up between two different situations: evil aliens and a simple country man mourning his loss of belief. It was like licking a Tootsie roll just to find a chunk of brussel sprouts. To the movie's credit - the ending was amazing. Everything just came together so smoothly it was like watching a piece of art being realized from start to finish.

During the film, one of the characters asks, "Is it possible that there are no coincidences?" I certainly hope so. I hope this movie means something in the grand scheme of things.


1 hour 47 minutes

Mel Gibson
Joaquin Phoenix
Cherry Jones
Rory Culkin
Abigail Breslin