ndsu spectrum: movie Review
Shyamalan’s latest casts an unbreakable spell
By JOHN HANSEN
Dec. 1, 2000
There have been movies about superheroes before. There have been movies exploring the origins of superheroes. There have been movies about seemingly normal people who reluctantly become superheroes.
“Unbreakable” is about all of these things. It is by no means groundbreaking. If you were to read through the script, you’d find nothing remarkable.
But, of course, “Unbreakable” is not about original ideas, although writer-director-producer M. Night Shyamalan is certainly original. He tells conventional tales in decidedly unique manner, smothering them with somber visuals and moody music. What would “The Sixth Sense” be without the twist at the end and the layers of subtle clues? A standard, and rather boring, ghost story.
The slow-as-molasses pacing and subtle visual clues that characterized “The Sixth Sense” are back in “Unbreakable,” as is the mind-shattering twist at the end. Generally, there’s nothing I despise more than a pretentious, overlong film that banks on its music and visuals to get an Oscar nod (“The Cider House Rules”) or a film built around a shock ending (“The Usual Suspects”). “Unbreakable” unfolds at a pace so deliberate it makes “The X-Files” look like a Jerry Bruckheimer production. However, it casts such a mesmerizing spell that you can’t help but forgive it.
“Unbreakable” is a suspense film set in the fantasy genre, not horror, but somehow it’s even more creepy than “The Sixth Sense.” Two moody opening segments introduce us to the characters: David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is the sole survivor of a train wreck; while everyone else was killed, he doesn’t have a scratch on him. Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson, delivering a sympathetic performance) is a comic book art dealer with a condition that makes his bones extremely fragile.
Elijah poses the theory that David is at the opposite end of the spectrum from him: he is unbreakable. In classic reluctant hero fashion, David – a stadium security guard struggling through a separation with his wife — shrugs off the suggestion.
Perhaps the neatest insight into Shyamalan offered here is that he’s apparently a big comic book afficianado. Not that anyone will confuse him with Kevin Smith, but it’s always nice to see an underappreciated art form get its due. One standout scene features Elijah discussing a print with a customer at his Limited Edition gallery. When he learns that the man is shopping for his four-year old son, Elijah can hardly contain his rage: “Does this look like a toy store? It’s an art gallery.”
What really makes “Unbreakable” work is the mood. The contrast of gritty middle class working man David with the fantastical theories posed by Elijah is brought out in the visuals — muted grays contrasting with bright purples and oranges. The symbolism and the story clues are one and same in this movie, so keep a sharp eye and an open mind.
Don’t worry, Shyamalan will give you plenty of time to mull it over.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Director: M. Night Shyamalan