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Movie Review

Unbreakable

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements incl. some disturbing violent content, and for a crude sexual reference

Reviewed by: Curtis D. Smith
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teen to Adult
Genre:
Thriller
Length:
1 hr. 43 min.
Year of Release:
2000
USA Release:
_____
Bruce Willis in “Unbreakable”
Featuring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Charlayne Woodard, Robin Wright Penn Spencer Treat Clark
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Producer: Barry Mendel, M Night Shyamalan, Sam Mercer
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures

A few elections ago, a certain vice presidential candidate said to another vice presidential candidate in a nationally televised debate, “I knew John F. Kennedy and you are no John F. Kennedy.” This sentiment is similar to that of watching “Unbreakable”, a film overshadowed to some extent by M. Night Shyamalan’s Oscar-nominated film, “The Sixth Sense” which also starred Bruce Willis.

Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in “Unbreakable”

This is not to say that Shyamalan’s follow-up is not good, on the contrary, “Unbreakable” is among the best films made in 2000. But it pales by natural comparison to Shyamalan’s last effort which, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, should have snagged the 1999 Oscar for best picture over “American Beauty”.

Be that as it may, Shyamalan has done what few directors are able to do: follow a $500 million dollar mega hit movie that captivated moviegoers worldwide with another great effort. “The Blair Witch…” couldn’t do it, Tom Cruise on a black motorcycle couldn’t do it, and it’s doubtful James Cameron will unleash another “Titanic” effort anytime soon. But it does seem as though Shyamalan may be treading on sacred ground—ground reserved for a select few directors in the history of film (such as Steven Spielberg) who consistently make remarkable movies.

Shyamalan’s found a niche in the deliberate character study of flawed individuals with astonishing gifts who meander through the supernatural/sci-fi/thriller genre, but will he stick with it long enough to let it run its artistic course? Let’s hope so. In his latest story, Shyamalan has again cast Willis in the lead role to play David Dunn, an out-of-sorts security guard on the brink of an emotional collapse. It seems David made a choice years ago to spurn his natural gift for the love of a woman and now his marriage, career and heart have all but died.

While on a train ride home from a New York job interview, David mysteriously survives a derailment that kills everyone else on board and prompts Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a strange, reclusive comic book collector with a degenerative bone disease to contact David and offer him an outrageous explanation as to how he managed to survive unscathed. Elijah is on the opposite end of the “breakable” continuum from David, a fact he wishes to explore and somehow bend into supporting his theory that there are real-life super heroes in this world.

The more Elijah talks to David about his gift the more David and his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) experiment with his unnatural powers. They soon discover, much to their shock, that David is virtually indestructible and strong beyond normal limits.

Through further experimentation under the guidance of Elijah, David also discovers that he can see the iniquitous memories of those he touches. And when he touches a killer on the loose he exacts his justice in an imperfect, uncertain fashion as if it were Peter Parker’s first bewildering yet benevolent act as Spider-Man.

His discovery of this gift rekindles his interest in life and renews his love for his wife (Robin Wright Penn) but a dark secret on the part of Elijah may throw his newfound enthusiasm off balance.

My first concern going in was that “Unbreakable” would not have an awesome surprise ending like the ending in “The Sixth Sense”. Again, it’s no “Sixth Sense” but it does pack an unexpected, albeit a somewhat depressing, punch as Elijah explains his motive for finding David. All the other Shyamalan elements are there, however: great suspense, deep and rich characters, foreboding backdrops and unique camera angles, all of which add depth to the film’s otherwise dark and depressing tone.

Moreover, Shyamalan is adept at holding the attention of filmgoers. There is never a dull, awkward moment that seems out of place, rather his style is such that even the most tepid movie fan will sit still to the end—bladder full of Pepsi or not.

Auspiciously, there is very little objectionable content in “Unbreakable” other than a decidedly downer yet surprise ending. There is a somewhat disturbing scene at the beginning of the film where Willis’ married character hits on another married woman, and another near the end of the film when he begins reading the evil memories of criminals (including one who turns out to be a murderer) but for the most part the film’s PG-13 rating is pretty benign.

The overall message of following one’s God-given talents is a pretty good one too, albeit shrouded in humanism rather than Godliness. Although David is quite gifted with extreme physical ability and the ability to root out evil he is still a very insecure commoner who eventually comes to terms with his gift. In a way, David is much like Moses who was fearful of his gift for leadership and questioned God’s judgment in asking him to escort the Israelites out of Egypt. In Exodus 4:10, after several attempts to sway God’s opinion, Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” But God knew Moses could do what he was assigned to do.

Although not perfect, “Unbreakable” teaches some good lessons such as doing what’s right despite one’s comfort level, working to preserving marriage and family, seeking out our individual, God-given talents and pursuing a higher calling rather than settling for mediocrity. Shyamalan has got better stuff in him and I cannot wait to see more. But for now, “Unbreakable” is a pretty darn good start in the right direction.


Viewer Comments
…The movie was full of intense moments and had little, almost no offensive language or offensive scenes. This is a good movie that you could even see with your teens. It gave a good moral on how to bring up your kids, and how to fix family issues. It was a very good movie. My Ratings: [4/4]
—Ashley R, age 14
I agree with the author of this review that the Sixth Sense did forshadow Unbreakable, and I think that all things considered, the Sixth Sense is a better movie. However, I do not know how this could be given a 3 rating for moviemaking quality. M. Night Shyamalan has written and directed another masterpiece that I loved. I give it a 5 for quality with no reservations! My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Ryan, age 16
A very entertaining thriller that never lost my interest. The previews really got me interested and the movie didn’t let me down. Hardly any swearing, one crude remark, and one scene of violence. My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—B. Lang, age 16
“Unbreakable” is the classic tale of an inexperienced superhero presented in a way the audience can relate to. There are no flamboyant costumes, no exaggerated personalities, no bulging muscles—just regular human beings trying to find their purpose in existence. Movies with such a captivating story are extremely rare. This is probably the best movie I have seen in almost two years (although I still have to see “The Sixth Sense”). My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Stephen Bobbett, age 18
This has got to be one of the most boringest movies I have ever wasted my money in seeing. If you seen the trailers of this movie, you’ve seen the most exciting part of it. It starts very slow and keeps dragging on and on and on. In other words don’t waste your time and money on this one.
—W. Marks, age 40
This movie tried way too hard! The movie was climbing its way to the top of the mountain, but just kept on falling off. This movie tries to capture a realtiy in someones mind. I thought this movie was telling me the story of Batman, and the superhero is a security guard. Please, this movie tried to do what the SIXTH SENSE did and it didn’t work… My Ratings: [3½/1]
—Aleksandar Heckner, age 21
This was an entertaining movie with an implausible storyline. The PG-13 rating is deserved yet the content of the movie (violence, sex, and profanity) is much milder and less explicit than the majority of PG-13 movies. My 13 year old son enjoyed it, but complained of the lack of action. The hero is flawed—he has a poor relationship with his wife and son, which makes him all the more human, although he retains some superhuman traits, of which he somehow is unaware. My wife liked it, but found it emotionally draining. I did not leave the movie uplifted in spirit, but I was not discouraged either. The movie did probe the question of purpose in life, which could lead to some rewarding family discussions if you choose to explore them. I would not recommend it to small children and I would encourage parents to accompany their children (as I would in almost all movies these days) if they elect to let them see it. My Ratings: [3/4]
—Mark L. Gilliam, age 39
The previews peak your interest and make you want to find out about this man that survives the impossible. How did he survive? What implications will this survival have on how he lives out the rest of his life? But the movie is not worth the full price you pay at the theatre… wait until this one comes out on video. This hugely disappointing movie leaves you going, “That’s IT?!” There is no mention of comic book characters in the previews, but that’s what this movie is about—the making of a comic book character. The idea is that comic books are about real life people whose “skills” have been glamorized and exaggerated. The real life villian spends his life killing people in disasterous catastrophes in order to find the hero. But it takes the villain to encourage the hero to find and develop his skills. This was a very well done movie about something really stupid. My Ratings: [3/4]
—Jenny Bryant, age 29
…One of the things that has really been impressive about Shaymalan is his astounding ability to present real stories in a real world without resorting to violence, language, or sexually explicit material. The language is so sparse that, when a character screams what in other films would be considered punctuations, the audience finds itself alarmed by the profanity. There are scenes that suggest intense violence, but Shaymalan’s tendency to down-play his stories gives these scenes a powerful sense of sorrow instead of the spice of an action movie.

This film is a beautiful composition of characters and events into a subject that is bigger than life… While there are no explicitly Christian themes in this film (Shaymalan is a spiritualist), the characters act as strong points to each other and reinforce very noble characteristics. David is a good father who is having a difficult time with his marriage.

When he knows he must chew someone out, he sends his son out of the room so that he won’t think his father is disrespecting the hospitality of another. Much of the film is spent in David’s house as he tries to understand who he is and what this means with his family. The film is extremely family oriented and takes a stand on sin that makes the viewer gasp at even the small sins that everyone commits.

Along with its sensitivity comes a few depictions of crimes and violence and there are a few scenes that are fairly intense. Parental discretion is naturally advised. On the other hand, one would be hard pressed to find another serious film this clean in the last 6 months. In the end, though, what you have is a wonderfully intense and complex film that plays its many cards with skill and grace without stuffing itself full of objectionable material. There is much to commend this film for; I could go on for pages. If for no other reason, I recommend supporting this film as an effort to prove to Hollywood that it is possible, even beneficial, to spend time and money on solid acting, excellent direction, and well thought out stories instead of special effects and sleaze. My Ratings: [3½/5]
—Matthias Shapiro, age 19
…The film (this is truly a thoughtful “film,” not a “movie” or “flick”) is tense and dramatic, underscored by the sparse musical score. It has a shocker of an ending—not nearly as shocking as “The Sixth Sense,” but still quite excellent. The underlying theme is about real-life superheroes… and how easy it is for one’s perception of the world to become disturbingly skewed. I wouldn’t recommend taking your kids to it, though. There are a number of scenes with graphic violence and sexual implications (including rape). The main character (played by Bruce Willis) realizes and develops his ability to see the deepest, darkest secrets of others simply by coming into physical contact with them—and we must witness a barrage of the unthinkable (from theft to murder) in the context of his mental flashes. This violence is portrayed as horrific and downright evil, however—never glorified. If you’re interested in something other than this year’s Hollywood Holiday-Crapfest or Blow-Something-Up flick, I recommend “Unbreakable.”…My Ratings: [3½/4½]
—Darren Sumner, age 24
In my opinion, this film was one of the worst films I have seen. Although Bruce Willis’ and Samuel L. Jackson’s acting ability was good (as always), the script was terribly written and planned out. You waited for an hour and a half (about) of a slow moving, unprogressive story that will leave you and the rest of the lot sleeping or drowsy. I was pleased that it got to the point right way in the beginning, but the rest of the movie was painful and aggravating to watch. The twist of the ending will leave you furious because you can’t believe that you sat through the whole movie expecting that your patience sitting throught this painful film will be rewarded in the long run. I came in with high expectations and it did not even meet my minimum. In my opinion it was a waste of time and money. Instead of investing your money into this horrible film, use it for a good purpose for those who need it this Christmas. Do not see this movie! My Ratings: [3½/1½]
—Jennfer Martinez, age 17
I thought that this movie was very well done. It looked at life from a good vs. evil/black and white perspective. There wasn’t anything outstandingly vulgar or inappropriate in this film. Unlike most films, it encouraged looking at life from a very different perspective, without influencing you either way. I would recommend this to anyone who can understand the psychological significance. My Ratings: [3½/3½]
—Jasmine Jones, age 19
Unbreakable had a chance to be a great science fiction film. My wife and I both felt that it fell apart, however, because of the total lack of excitement. Bruce Willis is depressed in this film, and not only slow to speak, but he hardly speaks at all. He is being portrayed as a superhero to be, and when he figures this out he FINALLY goes out to rescue people, and the whole thing is jumbled up in his mind, and he ends up saving two people without much heroics at all. We left the theater disappointed. The theatre was fairly full, and most of the others seemed disappointed as well. Not a lot of language, but God’s name was taken in vain. My Ratings: [3/1½]
—T. Wiebe, age 37
After seeing this movie, I have come to the conclusion that M. Night Shyamalan is extremely talented. As far as style, this movie is bound to be compared to the Sixth Sense… and for good reason. They are much alike in that aspect. However, the subject that these movies deal with are very different. There are no dead people walking around here. What we see in this movie is the story of a man that cannot be hurt (almost). There is no reference in this movie to such a power being given by God. However, at the same time it is not shown as a product of evolution either. The lead character played by Bruce Willis was born as he is. What he does with his skills is what makes this movie truly awesome (especially near the end). The scene with him standing in a busy area (a train station I believe) is very moving as people bump into him and he sees the crimes they have committed (you probably have to see it to truly know what I’m talking about). The twist at the end isn’t quite as big of a shock as that in the Sixth Sense, but it is nonetheless a very nice plot twist. As far as objectionable content goes, there is very little. I believe I counted three curse words. Also, there is a brief crude reference made. Probably what earned this movie its PG-13 rating is the mature themes. It’s probably not a movie that children will enjoy. However, older teenagers and college students will probably dig this movie. Open minded adults will probably enjoy it as well. Speaking for me personally, this was a terrific, intriguing movie that has left me thinking about it long after the closing credits scrolled up the screen. My Ratings: [3½/4½]
—Trae Cadenhead, age 18
“The Sixth Sense” setup the audience for an expectation for the unexpected. Yet we still were surprised. Intriguing story about a man who is trying to find out who he is, and in the process finds out even more than he ever dreamed of learning. The wrap-up at the end still left the audience thinking, “Now how did that go again?” A wonderful movie, only two scenes with some minor swearing (and one we should agree was acceptable, given the situation of the scene). My Ratings: [4/4]
—D. Stuart, age 19
Movie Critics
…“Unbreakable” asks what you should do with your life. David hones his search by dismantling assumptions about who he is…
—Ed Blank, Tribune-Review of Western Pennsylvania
…the underlying themes are both thought-provoking and inspirational…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…One scatological reference, one anatomical reference, and a couple of religious profanities and exclamations…
—Kids-in-Mind
…some brief, bloody moments…
—ScreenIt!