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Unbreakable
2000 - PG-13 - 103 Mins.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Producer: Barry Mendel, M. Night Shyamalan, Sam Mercer
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Charlayne Woodard, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark
Review by: David Trier
   
We all liked The Sixth Sense because it had a cute kid, a sedated Bruce Willis, good cinematography, a cynical darkness to it, and a "hoooooooly *#$%" ending. Unbreakable has all of these things, but spends so much time trying to prove it, it falls sadly in purgatory - somewhere between cleverly innovative and inconsequentially silly.

After David Dunn (Bruce Willis) emerges as the sole survivor of a deadly train crash, he is approached by a mysterious comic book dealer named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). Price has a debilitating disease that makes his bones brittle , so growing up he found an escape in comic books. His knowledge of the way comics pan out convinces him that Dunn, apparently invincible, is a real-life superhero. A perpetually depressed security guard with a failing marriage (Robin Wright Penn), Dunn does not immediately take to the idea. But with the encouragement of his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) and a re-examination of his life, Dunn discovers he may indeed have some surprising gifts...

No doubt M. Night Shyamalan is a talented filmmaker. His patient eye and cinematic subtelty make him stand out in an industry devoted to cheese. But like most projects where the director is not only the writer, but also the producer, the filmmaker's love for his project overshadows the real potential the project has. The close-ups become too close for too long, slow motion shots are indulged in too frequently, and the pacing becomes eratic. Unbreakable is downright boring for the first hour or so and you're left with so many clues and hints about what may or may not happen in the final acts, that you become disinterested and impatient. Well, I did anyway. But the last thirty to forty minutes are spellbinding. This childlike grin sort of creeps onto your face as you see the plot finally unfold and the picture starts to take on the quasi-realistic challenges of superherodom. No, I'm pretty sure that isn't a word. The special effects are used sparingly and appropriately, although a little gore wouldn't have hurt. The music by James Newton Howard, who's orchestarted the soundtracks to over 80 (mostly lame) movies, is dark and powerful, one of the film's best features.

Bruce Willis is basically playing the same character he did in The Sixth Sense, only on more valium. No one could ever accuse him of overacting, and he has an appealing way of communicating a message with his eyes, but at times you start to wonder if the Earth is spinning too fast or if he's... just... being... very... slow. Personally, I've had about all I can take of Samuel L. Jackson. He's an entertaining performer, but does that necessarily mean he's a good actor? If anyone's seen The Negotiator, it's clearly debatable. How many more movies will it take before he realizes he's being cast only as a vessel for spouting deeply profound but utterly meaningless psychobabble? The character of Elijah is basically a wimpy version of Laurence Fishburne from The Matrix, and I found it hard to take a real interest in him, even though he had a disease, a funky wardrobe, and a bad haircut. But it's only fair to recognize the difficulty in fleshing out a character in a movie where everything is a secret and Jackson does have his moments. Spencer Treat Clark is very good as the son. He is very expressive and attentive, one of the more interesting characters in the film. His scenes with Willis as he becomes more convinced that his father is invincible are very tense and moving. Robin Wright Penn is good as always, but the whole subplot of the failed marriage is unoriginal and boring. She also gets the short end of the stick when it comes to poorly scripted lines.

Movies about superheroes like Batman or Darkman are comic book movies, so they get to make the kind of mistakes you only sound silly for criticizing. They depend on complete suspension of disbelief and they're protected by that. What makes Unbreakable special, but in the end more flawed, is that it takes an intelligent dramatic thriller perspective. This is unique and deserves praise, but also sets it up for moments of extreme silliness; the that-would-never-happen syndrome. If a man had the kind of powers he did, how could he not know and how could he not do anything about it? If a man can sense when someone's commited a crime, how does that work in a world where what is legal and illegal, moral and immoral (not that these have much to do with each other) is constantly changing? And what exactly is the evolutionary purpose of invincible people who can sense crime? I realize these are silly questions, but the movie is too sophistocated not to have them answered. Elijah says he's been searching for the man that was his opposite all over the world, but as it turns out, they both live in Philadephia! And upon hearing the news of Dunn's survival, it takes no effort to leave a note on the man's car! How'd he know it was his car and what the hell kind of way is that to contact a person?

But the ending is satisfying, although abrupt, and the last few scenes are very entertaining (oh yeah, there will definitely be a sequel). But the journey to get there is too long and boring.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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