Reviewed by: Curtis D. Smith
|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|
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.
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.