REVIEWS by SULLYDOG
a film by M. Night Shyamalan
This is one of the best comic book movies I have ever seen, because it takes a new and very human look at the fundamental archetype of comic booksthe virtually indestructable superhero. How does one find out hes a superhero? What if hes not particularly excited about the prospect? Hows he supposed to juggle his new duties with family?
Unbreakable, the new film by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) doesnt exactly answer all these questions to our satisfaction. But thats okay, because what its really about is two men completing a painful journey out of a crippling depression. Its about one man who finds his purpose with the help of the other, an unlikely mentor who knows his purpose all too well.
David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is on his way home from an unsuccessful job interview in New York. An attractive young lady sits next to him on the train, and Dunn surreptitiously removes his wedding ring as a prelude to a half-hearted attempt to make time. In just moments, Shyamalan and Willis have already painted an unmistakeable image of a desperately sad man at war with himself. As the girl gets a clue and moves to another seat, the train speeds out of control. The windows rattle. Something is very wrong.
We never see the disaster that follows. Instead we cut to the intractable sadness of David Dunns face as he watches the only other survivor of the accident bleed to death in a hospital emergency ward. Hundreds have died, but Dunn doesnt have a scratch on him. When his son (Spencer Treat Clark) and wife (Robin Wright Penn) come to retrieve him, Shyamalan and his actors again paint an indelible image of a man estranged from himself and from the two people who love him mostand they do it without a word. This is terrific filmmaking.
Now Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) enters the picture. Price is a cripple, a victim of the genetic disease, osteogenesis imperfecta. His bones are brittle, and break with the slightest provocation. As a child he nearly retreated from the world, cowed by fear of injury and the taunting of his schoolmates, who called him Mr. Glass. Prices mother wooed him back to the land of the living by baiting him with comic books. That single fateful act of love and desperation has given Elijah an unbreakable inner strength and a terrible purpose. For years he has searched for his polar opposite: a real, live, indestructable superhero. When he sees reports of Davids miraculous survival on the news, Elijah thinks hes found his man at last.
This is the beginning of an odd, antagonistic relationship, as Elijah tries to bring David Dunn face-to-face with his destiny. The movie doesnt always work. Its fantasy, sure, and were willing to suspend disbelief. But I had trouble believing that an indestructable forty-something security guard who used to play college football would have absolutely no inkling that he was somehow different, that he was completely unaware of his enormous strength, or that it had never, ever occurred to him that, wow, I just dont ever seem to get hurt. And Jackson, over six feet tall with a straight spine and white sclera, makes a somewhat unconvincing OI sufferer (most victims are a least a little on the short side, with twisted spines. And the whites of their eyes turn blue, like Fremen).
But these are quibbles. Despite a deliberate pace and brooding tone, Unbreakable holds our interest. It succeeds because its really about David Dunns search for himself. And by himself I dont mean David Dunn, superhero. I mean David Dunn, Father. Husband. Decent Human Being With Something To Contribute. Its this slow process of self-discovery, revealed by Shyamalans excellent direction and the solid performances of his cast, that keeps us watching and involved.
Having now seen two of his films, I begin to detect some patterns in Shyamalans work. He loves secrets and surprise endings. Hes meticulous, and sets up shots that are rich with content and meaning, even if they look stark or dreary. His films, while lacking in flash and action, are rich and absorbing. I like the way he makes movies, and I think hes the man to watch for those who love the cinema of the fantastic. Now, some of you may remember that Sullydog spanked the The Sixth Sense when it came out. No, I dont take it back. I know a lot of people think it was some kind of masterpiece. I dont agree. It could have been a superb movie, but I still believe it was hopelessly marred by a cheap, hackneyed and completely unnecessary surprise ending. In Unbreakable, Shyamalan tries that same trick again.
But this time, it works.
Superman meets Abraham Maslow. Sullydog approves.