Review: Glass (2019) – Such Sweet Sorrow

Samuel L Jackson, James McAvoy and Bruce Willis in Glass

For people following the Eastrail 177 trilogy since Unbreakable’s release in 2000, Glass must seem a long time coming. For everyone else like me, Glass closes off a trilogy sure, but our expectations might not be quite so loaded. That might be why I’m pleased to announce that as a final chapter in a thrilling trilogy, Glass is a fitting capper that never loses sight of the messages and themes that made Unbreakable and Split such dynamic films. However as a solo effort, you might get a little lost.

Set weeks after the events of Split, Glass follows vigilante David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and  killer Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). When the two face off for the first time they are sent to the same Psychiatric facility housing mass murderer Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson). When a specialist is brought in to break through their delusions of grandeur, the three debate if they really are special or if they should accept their fates and roles in this story of heroes and villains.

Like stated above, Glass unlike its predecessors never proclaims to be anything but a conclusion to a trilogy so for the uninitiated it is almost impossible to get anything out of watching Glass, a risky gambit for director M Night Shyamalan whose hit and miss reputation doesn’t inspire financial success. However this ode to the strength found in broken people is smartly plotted, if a little messy when it comes to its often overly symbolic dialogue. A trilogy about the broken fragments of society, the people who fit into the gaps and blend into the background, Shyamalan has amassed an island of misfit toys if you will to populate Glass.

Serving as a welcome tonic to the usual Marvel outings, Shyamalan’s comic book film isn’t interested in the fantastical here, much like in Unbreakable it is the humanity on display that he finds fascinating. Devoted to his characters, Kevin and David are never described as the hero and the villain, despite filling those roles. These are complex characters that struggle with their roles. Their uncertainty and fear of doing the wrong thing makes up most of Glass’s run-time and it is in this struggle that Glass thrives more than in its action packed conclusion.

Backed up by many of the supporting characters of Unbreakable and Split, David, Kevin and Elijah are all humanised by their counterparts in the real world from Kevin’s sole surviving victim Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Elijah’s realist mother (Charlayne Woodward)to David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), all of whom are given room to breathe life into this world outside of this three-way character study. Taylor-Joy especially is a delight as the now strong, fearless woman she has become because of Kevin and everything he did to/for her.

Despite playing second fiddle to Jackson and McAvoy this time around, Willis brings David’s heart to the fore while never given much to use. The strong silent man from Unbreakable is slightly more sure of himself but still struggling to be a better version of himself, still filled with regret. Jackson’s Mr Glass however here is even more warped, consumed by the comic books he wishes the world was like. Shyamalan plays into this with a script loaded with clunky one liners designed to make Elijah seem like the smartest man in the room. Jackson gives it his all and almost makes it work but you can’t help but think something is off.

More troublesome is the addition of Sarah Paulson as Dr Ellie Staple, the doctor assigned to fix their supernatural delusions. Despite her best efforts to seem relevant, Staple is a walking plot device, a character designed to spout nonsense dialogue that gets David and Kevin to where they need to be. Her solo moment of actual emotion is over too soon and despite her extensive presence here, she is underutilized despite giving Staple her everything.

Given most of the workload McAvoy, much like in Split is let loose to go crazy, not just as The Beast, his monstrous alter ego but as the other 19 or so personalities on display here. While his transformations are entertaining, it is his quieter moments as his alters Dennis and Patricia, as well as Kevin himself, that bring out the best in McAvoy’s performance. His confusion and uncertainty is palpable while having the inadvertent ability to connect Kevin to David and Elijah.

Much will be said about Glass’ skill at subverting people’s expectations but Shyamalan has been doing that for most of his career. The 11th hour twists that he is known for here seem tacked on and almost too excessive but will definitely leave you pondering when the credits roll. Asking what is really important in life, the idea of the supernatural or the hope that it can bring is a clever question but not quite as vital as the many others this trilogy has asked, in far more subtle ways. If anything Glass, and the whole Eastrail 177 trilogy has been about finding strength through weakness and because of that I can excuse the small issues here because these weaknesses are backed up by an awful lot of strengths.

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