Saturday, April 05, 2008
M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999) introduced a new kind of surprise ending to film, and since then, filmmakers, including Shyamalan himself, have attempted to duplicate it, with varying results. Remember the atrocious Identity (2003), in which the surprise ending was so lame that it succeeded in diminishing the entire film?
There have been numerous other failures. Atonement is not a failure, but it comes close. Before you object and say But Mr. Smithee, Sir, Atonement is based on a famous book, let me just say that I don't care. A film must stand on its own merits, if any.
The first act is intriguing; we see the same event from different points of view, and the film seems to be getting at some sort of truth. But the second act devolves into a Spielbergian technical exercise that, while never less than entertaining, does little to advance the story.
Then we get the surprise ending, in which the meta-story is chosen over the story. The move is supposed to elicit emotions, whereas to this viewer, it felt more like a cheap trick. We feel a sense of loss, but mostly for the film that never was.
The filmmaker's attempt to make Romola Garai look plain also fails miserably, much to the viewer's delight.