Movie reviews: 'Split' re-establishes Shyamalan as master of twist ending
This image released by Universal Pictures shows James McAvoy in a scene from 'Split.'
Published Friday, January 20, 2017 6:30AM EST
SPLIT: 4 STARS
Let’s twist again, like we did last summer! Or in this case, like we did a decade or so ago when director M. Night Shyamalan became the master of the trick ending. Remember the twist in “The Sixth Sense”? It was one of the best surprises in movie memory. Ever since little Haley Joel Osment uttered those four words that sent chills down audience’s spines—“I see dead people”—Shyamalan has been largely unsuccessful in recreating that kind of jolt for his audience.
His new film, a psychological horror called “Split,” comes close to re-establishing Shyamalan’s reputation as the ziggiest zagger of a storyteller in Hollywood.
The dark story begins in broad daylight with the kidnapping of teens Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). The three friends are plunked down into an airless basement dungeon, held captive by Kevin (James McAvoy), a man with dissociative identity disorder. In other words his mind has cleaved into twenty-four separate and distinctive personas. Think “Psycho” times 12. To escape the girls must appeal to Kevin’s better nature or natures before the final personality, The Beast, shows up and they become, “sacred food.”
Shyamalan will earn a good chunk of the credit for “Split,” for writing the twisty-turny story, for choosing the anxiety-inducing soundtrack, for constructing a (mostly) taut and tense pulpy thriller with loads of black humour but it is McAvoy that makes the movie memorable.
From the button-down, neat-freak Dennis, to nine-year-old Kanye West fan Hedwig to the sinister Patricia, he jumps from personality to personality, breathing life into each of his characters. The changes are frequently lightening fast. A furrow of a brow, the tightening of the lips and presto-chango, he’s someone else. It’s bravura work, unafraid to go over-the-top, embracing each and every character as if they were the star of the show.
Like all good Shyamalan movies (and some bad ones too) there is a twist, and a good one, but you’ll have to buy a ticket to find out what it is. There will be no spoilers here. Suffice to say the curve ball works thematically as well as providing several ‘What the Hell!!’ moments.
“Split” is wild and wooly, uniting, for the first time in a long time, Shyamalan’s talent for keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and his ability to change the game in the final act.
THE FOUNDER: 3 ½ STARS
Hero or villain? That’s the question “The Founder” asks about its subject, McDonald's main man Ray Kroc. Does he deserve a break today for changing the way America eats or is he a ruthless businessman to be grilled for his heavy handed tactics?
When we first meet Kroc (Michael Keaton) he’s a door-to-door salesman hustling a new fangled milk shake blender. Despite his slick pitch his milk shake maker isn’t shaking up the fast food business. Restaurant after restaurant turns him down, until a small San Bernardino burger shack run by Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald places an order for six of the machines, then ups the buy to eight. Intrigued, Kroc travels cross-country to check out the operation and finds a bustling restaurant pumping out good food with an almost military efficiency.
The MacDonald brothers streamlined their kitchen for maximum productivity, maximizing every inch of space to bang out burgers in under thirty seconds. Kroc, amazed, convinces the pair to allow him to franchise their ideas and name. Reluctant, they agree but with a strict set of rules to ensure quality control. Their uneasy partnership becomes a powder keg when Kroc unilaterally changes how the company is run.
As the company grows so does Kroc’s ego and anything-to-win attitude.
Much of the way Kroc treats his business partners in “The Founder” is as distasteful as The Hula Burger, his famous and failed foray into vegetarian cookery. He double dealed, went behind their backs and worse, tampered with some of their recipes. Keaton does a great job of slowly revealing Kroc’s duplicity and dive into self-indulgence as he morphs from failure to success. His natural charisma and flair—He’s Batman! He’s Mr. Mom! He’s Beetlejuice!—brings with it a familiarity that makes sense when telling the story of one of the best known brands on earth. He effectively portrays Kroc’s descent into amorality and callousness.
Like the operation that caught Kroc’s eye, the film is efficient, wasting no moves in the telling of the tale. It’s a classic story of persistence and greed and director John Lee Hancock gets right to the meat of the story. Along the way are feisty and bittersweet supporting performances from Offerman and Lynch and perfect period production design that evokes the spirit of the time.
However, as much as the film is about the U.S.’s growth spurt in the 1950s, it is also a portrait of the kind of never-say-die spirit that evokes the very best and worst of the American Dream. Kroc is insufferable, a ruthless conniver who grabbed the gold ring, or, in this case, arches. Is he a hero or villain? Depends on which side of the arch you side with.
“The Founder” isn’t about the end of the story. Most people know about the MacDonald’s phenomenon—they feed 1% of the world's population every day—but fewer realize the journey it took to get there.