directed by M. Night Shyamalan
(Buena Vista, 2000)

Ah yes, here we have another example of the "genius" of M. Night Shyamalan, the writer/director with the uncanny ability to take a silly, fantastical story and transform it into a film that is -- well, silly and fantastical. And patronizing, as well. The Sixth Sense was a great movie, but viewings of Lady in the Water and Unbreakable have me convinced that Shyamalan is the most overrated filmmaker to come along in years.

Unbreakable is just a bad movie, pure and simple, but what makes it ever so much agonizingly more unbearable is Shyamalan's "holier than thou" approach to filmmaking. He can't put together a single scene without going all artsy-fartsy on us, as if his films are just too important for anything resembling normal cinematic techniques. He gives us panoramic views of characters for no apparent reason, overdramatizes even the most mundane of scenes by showing the film in three-four time (actually, knowing Shyamalan, it's probably something like 0.7893834343 time), and oftentimes foregoes the use of background music in his far too numerous "let's just pause right here for about five minutes" character shots. Thus it is that Unbreakable, a film largely inspired by comic books, is presented as if it's a cinematic masterpiece of life-changing proportions. Well, it isn't.

Here's the down and dirty description of Unbreakable. Bruce Willis plays David Dunn, a seemingly ordinary guy who just so happens to walk away unscathed from a train wreck that killed everyone else on board. Soon thereafter, he is covertly contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), an avowed comic-book collector and dealer in comic "art" who tells him he's some kind of modern-day superhero. Apparently, Elijah, who was born with a defect that made his bones incredibly brittle, has spent all of his adult life seeking a real-life superhero. David blows the guy off but soon begins thinking back on his life. The first thing he does is to try and figure out if he has ever been sick or injured. Now you would think any sane person could answer that question himself -- if you've ever been really sick, you're going to remember it, and if you've never been sick or injured over the course of multiple decades, you're going to have picked up on that fact at some point. Eventually, Elijah gets under David's skin, which leads us up to the film's final scenes. These crucial moments in the film ought to generate cinematic fireworks, but they don't. I looked for some excitement, and there was just none to be found.

As I've indicated, I thought the storyline was pretty silly (but not as silly as that of Lady in the Water), but an equally serious problem is the lack of any chemistry whatsoever between any of the main characters, especially David and his wife and son. Apparently, I was supposed to care about the fate of their troubled marriage -- but I didn't. I didn't even care if David lived or died, to tell you the truth. And his son was just annoying. Now, you do get the vintage Shyamalan twist at the very end, but the effort required to sit through this movie all the way to the end greatly exceeds the payoff of that "surprise." I haven't seen all of Shyamalan's films yet, so maybe there is still some hope for him, but the evidence is definitely mounting that The Sixth Sense was a one-hit wonder for this filmmaker.

review by
Daniel Jolley

17 November 2007

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