Director : M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay : M. Night Shyamalan
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Bruce Willis (David Dunne), Samuel L. Jackson (Elijah Price), Robin Wright Penn (Audrey Dunne), Spencer Treat Clark (Jeremy Dunne)
There was no way for M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable to avoid comparisons to his previous film, The Sixth Sense, which surprised everyone in the summer of 1999 by becoming the 10th highest all-time domestic box-office earner and garnering six Academy Award nominations, including two for Shyamalan for writing and directing. There was the inescapable comparisons between the supernatural overtones of both films, of the deliberateness of the pacing, of the dialogue being uttered in grave, hushed tones, of the location in Philadelphia, of the twist endings.
However, what I find infinitely more interesting is the thematic similarities between the two films. Both are ultimately about people who are forced to come to terms with an unusual gift that is both a blessing and a curse. Together, these two films create a fascinating exploration of the nature of human exceptionality and the way in which both the person with the gift and those around him come to deal with it. In The Sixth Sense, a young child had to cope with his ability to see ghosts. In Unbreakable, a middle-age man struggles to understand what appears to be his own invincibility.
The man's name is David Dunne (Bruce Willis), and he is a one-time college football star who now works as a security guard at a college football stadium. His 12-year marriage is in the midst of a slow disintegration, and he no longer sleeps in the same room with his wife, Audrey (Robin Wright Penn).
In the film's opening sequence, David is on a train traveling from New York, where he has been applying for a job, to his home in Philadelphia. In a horrible turn of events that is expertly suggested, but never shown, the train derails and collides with another train, killing everyone on board ... except David. Not only does he survive, but the doctor at the emergency room explains to him that he has not broken a single bone. “You don't have a scratch on you,” the doctor says in a solemn voice that suggests terrified amazement.
David is soon contacted by Elijah Prince (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book art dealer who was born with a rare disease that makes his bones extremely brittle. “The kids called me Mr. Glass in school because I broke so easily,” he says in a voice that betrays how much anger and resentment he feels about his lot in life. Elijah is physically the opposite of David--he is as breakable as David is unbreakable. To this end, Elijah has a theory. He believes that comic books are a form of pictorial history. Their fantastical stories about people with superhuman strengths are more than just imaginative whimsy--they are telling us something about the human condition. Because he is so brittle, Elijah believes it is only logical that there must be someone on the other end of the spectrum, someone who is literally unbreakable. He is convinced that David is that person.
David does not believe--or does not want to believe--in Elijah's theory, but everything in his life begins to point to its truthfulness. Thus, much of the film follows David's path of self-discovery, of learning what he has always known, but never paid attention to. He realizes that he has never been sick a single day in his life. A car accident that ended his college football career seems to suggest that he can be injured, but not everything is what it seems. Elijah is persistent, pressing David to think about his past and reevaluate it in light of his surviving the fatal train wreck.
In some ways, Unbreakable is like the extended first act to the creation of a new superhero. But, unlike most stories about superheroes, Shyamalan is not so much interested in how David will use his newfound power, but rather in the psychological dimension of how he comes to grips with it. There is a sequence near the end of the film where David tests himself in heroic fashion, but the sequence is always about him and not about the specific actions he takes or the victims he saves.
This sequence, and the film as a whole, benefits from Shyamalan's dark, low-key approach: Although the subject matter is fantastical, he keeps it down to earth with moody realism and a refusal to overstate anything. The pacing is slow and deliberate, but it enhances the unfolding nature of David's psychological state. Understanding his gift is not something that would happen quickly or easily, and Shyamalan never tries to rush it.
Bruce Willis turns in a strong, low-key performance as David. He and Robin Wright Penn have several good scenes together in which they project the tension in their failing marriage without saying much at all. Willis also has several nice scenes with his 13-year-old son (Spencer Treat Clark), who is convinced that his father is a superhero. It's an interesting spin on the son seeing the father as hero, especially when he can sense that there is something truly special about his dad.
Of course, because the main character is an older man, Unbreakable loses some of the poignancy that made The Sixth Sense so effective. Willis makes a sympathetic central character, but he is never as lost or scared as a child would be. Samuel L. Jackson's character is, in many ways, more complex, as we are given scenes of his life as a child, frightened to go outside for fear of breaking another bone. His actions as an adult, while eccentric, are completely plausible given his background.
This is, without a doubt, Shyamalan's greatest strength as a writer and a director and why he is so adept at making supernatural films: He knows and understands his characters and is able to project that understanding to the audience. Most filmmakers who work in fantasy genres tend to privilege the phenomena over the characters who are affected. Shyamalan does the opposite, and this is why his best films are so engrossing. His explorations of the emotional contours of ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary gifts sets him apart as a unique filmmaker with a singular voice that taps into large audiences.
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Touchstone Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||April 1, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|In full 1080p high definition, Unbreakable looks very good. The image is sharp and clear, with good detail in every scene. The film has an intentionally low-key color palette, nearly monochromatic at times, which is then punctuated by bright bursts of primary colors, all of which are rich and beautifully saturated. The film is also extremely dark, and could have easily become murky and dense in a bad transfer. Thankfully, blacks are deep and strong and shadow detail is great. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is likewise fantastic, making subtle use of the surround tracks for ambient noise and drawing us deep into the experience in scenes such as Elijah's horrifying fall down the stairs. The train sequence at the beginning of the film is a particularly good example of how enveloping the soundtrack can be.|
|Nothing new here--all of the included supplements were previously available on the Vista series DVD of Unbreakable. We get a 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with Willis, Jackson, Shyamalan, and several other members of the cast and crew, as well as “Comic Books and Superheroes,” a fairly intriguing dissection of how Unbreakable fits into the history of superheroes and comic books (interviewees include such comics legends as Will Eisner and Frank Miller). There are seven deleted scenes, each of which is introduced and explained by Shyamalan, and a multi-angle feature in which you can watch the train station sequence and switch between the finished film and the storyboards, as well as three different audio tracks: the final mix, the isolated score, and the isolated effects track. Finally, perhaps to show some kind of humility, Shyamalan has allowed the inclusion of a brief fight sequence from a home movie he made as a kid, showing that everyone has to start somewhere.|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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