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The Village

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody, Bryce Howard, Judy Greer, Michael Pitt, Celia Weston, Liz Stauber, Joanna Reiner, Fran Kranz, Cherry Jones, Brendan Gleeson

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

When it comes to creating films with dead-on atmosphere, no- one, not even Tim Burton, comes close to the vision of M.Night Shyamalan. In "The Sixth Sense," one of the best movies of 1999, he created the most amazing scene of the year when he sat Bruce Willis next to Olivia Williams, the latter not having a clue that her dead husband was sitting just inches from her at a restaurant while she spoke to herself while conveying to the audience that she was actually addressing him. Now, with "The Village," the supernatural element takes a back seat, though without the creatures of the titled area the picture would have fallen flat. We're set back to an American hamlet in the year 1897 at a time and place that people (believe it or not) lived without computers, without cell phones, even with Citarella and Balducci to buy their food. Could anyone be happy without these modern miracles? Probably yes, at least, surprisingly enough, the young people were passionate about their surrounding if their elders had issues that caused them anguish. In fact we learn that the communal setup was arranged not by hippie-ish kids or by groovy adults, but by elders whose friends and relatives had been victims of crime in the civilized world.

As we observe some three or four dozen characters in this self- contained village who speak in a strange American tongue without the use of terms such as "like" and "ya know" and "I mean," we could easily be instead in the Salem of the 17th century depicted so well by Arthur Miller's play (and Nicholas Hytner's dreadful film) "The Crucible." The townspeople did have their jealousies and animosities much like the folks in Friedrich Durrenmatt's "The Visit," but instead of burning witches they stayed away from things that go bump in the night. Specifically, the village fear was of forest creatures with whom the folks have an unspoken truce: you don't bother us and we won't wander into the forbidden woods. When the village idiot, actually the emotionally disturbed Noah Percy (Adrien Brody), wanders into the verboten area to pick some red berries, the creatures send a warning: a red line, a forward slash on the doors of the houses, which clearly means "we'll forgive you this time, but don't make the same mistake again." Oh yes, they also eviscerated an animal, stripping it of its coat like expert furriers. Essentially two generations lived in the village: the elders such as the spokesperson, Edward Walker (William Hurt); the woman he "had feelings for" but would not express them, Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver); the bombastic August Nicholson (Brendan Gleeson); the woman with stories of her youth, Mrs. Clack (Cherry Jones). The younger generation to whom the villagers would pass on the traditions include Walker's blind daughter, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard); the mentally unbalanced or autistic Noah Percy (Adrien Brody); the strong, silent Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix); and others.

If you were the generation that represented the future, would you be content to live as they did–the women and children taking five days to spin enough linen on a wheel to make a single shirt, the single suit you'd wear on Sunday after spending the week in a yellow, hooded cloak? Instead of McDonald's, you'd live off the livestock on the land? Who knows? Looking back, maybe a weekend in a cabin would be fine, but for a lifetime? No way. Think again. If you never have the amenities we take for granted today, might you not prefer to splendid discipline of the children in the school taught by Edward Walker, the togetherness of the commune, dining together instead of the current custom of grabbing bites between jobs or on the way to the movies, the absence of obscenities, hip-hop, and crime?

There is one attempted murder, however, which results in the town's sending for medicine in the town at the other end of the woods the one person whom the creatures would presumably not harm because she is blind. As this chosen woman, Bryce Dallas Howard turns in a spectacular debut feature performance which should put her on the short list of critics' groups giving awards for just that category. In fact the performances of the entire ensemble are pretty much perfect, a result, perhaps, of Shyamalan's boot camp training in which the actors were totally immersed in the rustic setting of the village, serving dinner family style, with two cast members named each night to prepare the evening mill while all shared in the 19th century chores such as sweeping the porch and burying the dead.

There is one stunning twist that comes toward the conclusion, one that may not be as surprising as Haley Joel Osment's "I- see-dead-people" shtick, but is enough to knock one sock off if not both. All in all, a character center period drama far more than a ghost story, a major entry into this year's pictures of mystery and imagination.

Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten

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