Before M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation went down the tubes, he created Unbreakable, an amazingly nuanced take on the superhero film, which had high expectations coming right on the heels of his smash hit The Sixth Sense. Bringing back Bruce Willis as the star and James Newton Howard as composer, Shyamalan’s artistry is out of this world. The film is replete with framed shots meant to look like comic book panels, a much more effective and subtle technique than Ang Lee’s attempt at the same thing in Hulk. Repeated use of upside-down shots, mirrored shots, and Shyamalan’s distinctive application of bright colors in a drab world make repeated watchings worthwhile, if only to notice them all like Easter eggs, and, of course, there’s the surprise ending, which may not be as mind-blowing as in The Sixth Sense but definitely comes as a game-changing surprise on the first viewing.
Bruce Willis is at his subdued best as David Dunn, and Robin Wright Penn as his wife Audrey and Spencer Treat Clark as son Joseph are likewise exemplary. Samuel L. Jackson steals every scene he’s in, and it’s not just because of his hairdo. His role may be very different from his more recent comic book films (Nick Fury), but he manages great vulnerability as well as potential psychosis.
Although Unbreakable is considered a superhero film, it doesn’t even attempt the unfettered entertainment of movies like Spider-Man, Iron Man, or The Avengers. David’s one stab at heroism is too horrific to be really enjoyable, though it remains timely in light of the Ariel Castro kidnappings that recently came to light in Cleveland. Plus, while The Sixth Sense ended on a bittersweet but hopeful note, Unbreakable’s twist ending is more dismal and depressing.
There are no explosions, no jaw-dropping stunts, just exceptional acting, skillful cinematography, and some genuinely tense scenes. I love the attention to little details, such as the brief scene of The Powerpuff Girls episode “Mommy Fearest,” which features both breaking glass and a plot analogous to the film’s. Unbreakable isn’t the kind of film I like to watch often, but it’s certainly worth watching and perhaps even studying.
Best line: (Elijah Price) “Do you know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world, to not know why you’re here.”Artistry: 10 Characters/Actors: 9 Entertainment: 5 Visual Effects: 6 Originality: 8 Watchability: 5 Other (language and a bloodless but brutal death scene): -5 TOTAL: 38 out of 60
Next: #236 – Wuthering Heights (1970)
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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