Film review – Unbreakable (2000)

Comparisons to M. Night Shyamalan’s smash hit The Sixth Sense are going to be inevitable when reviewing Unbreakable, the latest film he has written, produced, and directed. While not as good as The Sixth Sense, it is still worth seeing even though there are elements that let it down. The major problems in Unbreakable seem to be the result of Shyamalan trying too hard to re-create the mood of The Sixth Sense.

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is the sole survivor of a train crash whose miraculous survival prompts him to realise that he cannot recall ever being hurt or injured. He is contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson); a man who was born with a bone defect that has resulted in a lifetime of injuries. Elijah is an obsessive comic book collector who believes that David has powers akin to that of a super hero and hence has the potential to help people less fortunate then him.

While the question of whether or not David has superpowers remains unanswered, Unbreakable is a very intense and unpredictable film. However as soon as the question is answered, it becomes very bland. The revelation is neither surprising nor exciting, and the resulting consequences almost seem to belong to another film. The mystery was a lot more interesting than the unsatisfying explanation.

Like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable has an unexpected and unpredictable twist right before the film ends. However Unbreakable‘s twist is pointless. Unlike the twist in The Sixth Sense, it doesn’t tie up loose ends or encourage the audience to re-examine the film. Instead it answers a question that nobody asked or really cared about. The twist is clever but redundant, making it a distraction from the rest of the film instead of complimenting it.

The other major flaw of Unbreakable is the overly intense acting. While Bruce Willis’s brooding and minimalist acting style, which worked so incredibly well in The Sixth Sense, comes close to becoming indulgent and almost comical. Similarly Samuel L. Jackson’s deadly serious monologues about the cultural significance of comic books, and the potential for everyday people to take on superhero qualities, almost come across as a deadpan send-up.

Unbreakable does succeed in creating an eerie mood through its fantastic camera work. Shyamalan is amazing at conveying emotion and detail through small gestures and camera moves. His use of long takes and unusual camera placement generate an intimate fly-on-the-wall perspective, giving the audience an uncomfortable voyeurism sensation, as we gain emotional access into several private moments.

Despite its flaws, Unbreakable is still an engaging and emotive film that never stoops to being manipulative to get its audience on side. While it does not deliver in the same way that The Sixth Sense did, Unbreakable still demonstrates Shyamalan’s remarkable abilities as a director who is brilliant in his simplicity. So long as he does not become repetitive, Shyamalan may become a major presence in the film industry.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2000
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