Thursday, July 1, 2010

Movie Review: "Unbreakable" Has Broken Ending

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 17 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Unbreakable (2000)
Running time: 106 minutes (1 hour, 46 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for mature thematic elements including some disturbing violent content, and for a crude sexual reference
WRITER/DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
PRODUCERS: Barry Mendel, Sam Mercer, and M. Night Shyamalan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eduardo Serra (director of photography)
EDITOR: Dylan Tichenor
COMPOSER: James Newton Howard


Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, and Johnny Hiram Jamison

Sometimes an awkward or inappropriate ending can ruin a very good or even a great movie. For the follow up to his enormously popular worldwide smash, The Sixth Sense, director M. Night Shyamalan decided to smash his fine film Unbreakable over its figurative head with a dud of an ending. Still, the film is worth seeing, if for no other reason than to watch an emerging master filmmaker whose style is somewhat similar to Steven Spielberg, the man to whom Shyamalan is favorably compared.

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is the father of a lonely boy (Spencer Treat Clark), the owner of a serious midlife crisis, and a somewhat estranged husband to his wife (Robin Wright Penn). He is a security guard returning by train from a job interview when the train suddenly derails. Dunn is the sole surviving passenger, and he escapes the tragedy without so much as a scratch or a broken bone. He meets Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a strange fellow who believes David is the special man with an extraordinary gift for whom Elijah has searched most of his adult life.

Shyamalan is without a doubt a major directorial talent. He understands how to use his fellow filmmakers to maximum effect: using lighting, music, film editing, photography, and actors like toys he can move around to tell delicious, engaging, and fantastic supernatural thrillers. Like Spielberg, Shymalan’s technique is more manipulative than obvious, but what he does works. One scene after another reveals how carefully he weaves his film, as he slowly unwraps whatever surprise lies around the corner of each story twist.

His weakness is in his writing because he has a propensity to cheat and to hide things in order to confuse his audience, or he’s just inconsistent with the rules he establishes to make the world of his film work (The Sixth Sense has many). He doesn’t seem to really want us to solve the mysteries of his film, so much as he wants us to be surprised by his shocking twists, especially if that surprise comes as a slap in the face.

As effective and enthralling as Unbreakable is, the resolution is simply something Shyamalan drops like a bomb. There is no doubt that it is a shocker, but what it does is turn Unbreakable into the back story of Dunn’s life, not the story of his life. This is what happens after Dunn discovers and accepts what he is and what Elijah had to do to make David accept his destiny (or Elijah’s destiny for him). In fact, the resolution simply sours something that was turning out to be really beautiful, admittedly somber, but beautiful nonetheless.

The performances are all pretty good, if a bit too moody. It’s understandable to have the cast in a blue mood to heighten the sense of the otherness or the supernatural, but the actors’ dower expressions make even the light moments too bittersweet. Or maybe the whole thing is supposed to be a downer. It’s really sad that what looked like a great film was ruined by a gimmick – Shyamalan’s one trick; still, I’d recommend you see this thriller at least once.

6 of 10


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