Unbreakable (2000)

7 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When you hear about writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to his masterpiece, the 1999 supernatural thriller “The Sixth Sense,” you either expect very much or very little. It’s that feeling you get when you watch the trailer of “Unbreakable” and you notice the writer-director’s name, as well as the somewhat similar tone that “Sixth Sense” had, what you can gather from the trailer. Oh yeah, and Bruce Willis is in both movies.

That said, I think “Unbreakable” is a wonderful movie. It’s eerie, original, and well put together.

It has that same uneasy feeling that was brought to life for the best in “The Sixth Sense.” Only this time, it isn’t a spin on the ghost story, but on the superhero origin story. The whole movie is scripted like the first half of a superhero movie and shot like a haunting portrait. Comic books featuring superheroes take on a major element of “Unbreakable,” but this is not a comic book movie. Far from it.

It begins as a security guard named David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is the sole survivor of a train derailment. Not only that, but he walks away from the crash completely unharmed, without breaking one bone in his body. This attracts the attention of comic book collector Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), whose life has been nothing but misfortune. He was born with a disease that makes his bones extremely fragile and easily breakable. As a child, his classmates dubbed him “Mr. Glass”, because his bones “broke like glass.” His mother got him hooked on comic books as a child to keep him from sadness, and he has been studying them ever since.

Anyway, Elijah contacts David and tells him a theory that may or may not be possible. From studying comic books, he has a theory that if there is a man such as him, whose bones can break easily, then there should be a man who is in the exact opposite way of living—an unbreakable, invincible man.

At first, David dismisses Elijah’s theory as just a crazy idea. But soon, he begins to ask some questions about himself. He asks his boss if he’s ever taken a sick day from work, and he asks his wife Audrey (Robin Wright Penn) if he’s been sick in the entire time they’ve been married. (There was a nearly fatal accident he and Audrey have been in years ago, but even that has its secrets.) David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) believes that Elijah is right and that his dad is some kind of superhero. He even goes to an extreme measure of attempting to shoot David with a pistol to prove to him that Elijah is right.

There’s a real amount of tension throughout “Unbreakable” that also comes when Audrey, a therapist, has Elijah for a patient and doesn’t know that he and David have already been in contact. There are many moments like that that just feel like there’s something eerie going on, but you’re not quite sure as to exactly what.

There are many touches that Shyamalan puts throughout the film. One is the use of glass around Elijah—you see him in a reflection off a TV or a glass case, and his own cane is made of glass. Then, there’s the constant use of lingering shots that just continue at their own pace—they’re well-directed, well-acted, and they take their time to continue. Another is the choice of clothing that these characters wear. I should explain what I mean by that, but I fear I might be spoiling something.

One could watch “Unbreakable” and appreciate what Shyamalan has done this time. It may not be up there with “Sixth Sense,” but what follow-up usually is? Then, one could watch the film more than once and piece the puzzle together after experiencing the twist ending the first time, as they did with “Sixth Sense.” Yes, there is a twist ending here, as there was in “Sixth Sense.” It features Elijah’s further characteristics, and I won’t give anything else about it away, but I will say this—When I watched it for the first time, I didn’t accept it because I couldn’t believe it. But I watched the whole film again and let everything piece together in my mind. What I realized is how tragic Elijah’s story is. It’s intriguing, the way that destiny could be either a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. That’s all I’ll say about the ending.

What “Unbreakable” might be missing, and I think this is what cost the film half-a-star from me, is a more confident, heartfelt relationship between David and his son. There isn’t that much of a sense of connection that we’re supposed to feel for these two. Actually, there’s some sense, but not enough. But what really makes “Unbreakable” stand out are the creative ideas put into the story, the consistent dark tone that comes with this type of storyline, and two great performances from Willis as the everyman and Jackson as the mysterious tragedy-personified.

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