When a movie generates as much discussion as Unbreakable, it’s obvious viewers have seen something special on the big screen. Starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, this suspense thriller offers much food for thought. Although Willis underplays his role as an unhappy security guard, and Jackson comes on a bit too strong as an obsessed gallery owner, these two fine actors are just as compelling to watch together as they were in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
Giving away too much about the plot could spoil this unusual film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, so I’ll focus on other aspects of Unbreakable. As everyone knows by now, this is filmmaker M.Night Shyalaman’s first movie since The Sixth Sense, one of the most successful films of 1999. However, while offering the same somber tone and emphasis on hard-to-explain events, Unbreakable deals with more complicated ideas and issues, particularly the concept of human potential.
Shyamalan began asking himself questions about his own destiny at age seventeen. He came from a family of twelve doctors, including his mother and father, and received scholarships to several medical schools. But his passion for filmmaking caused him to wonder "What am I supposed to be doing with my life?" Shyamalan claims the theme for Unbreakable, which he wrote as well as directed, stems from this personal dilemma.
In an impressive and original bit of storytelling, Shyamalan has created two characters who illustrate the importance of finding out "what you are supposed to do." David Dunn (Willis) emerges from a train accident that kills all the other passengers, but there’s not a scratch on him. In fact, Dunn can’t remember ever having a day of illness or injury. Elijah Price (Jackson) was born with osteogensis imperfecta, a condition describing bones so brittle they break under very little pressure. Although opposites, these men need each other. The most intriguing part of the film involves surprising twists and turns in their relationship, leading to an amazing conclusion.
Philadelphia, complete with its rich historical architecture and beautiful suburban landscapes, provides a perfect backdrop for Unbreakable. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra (Wings of the Dove) uses dark silhouette images of the city to emphasize the kind of real and surreal atmosphere needed for this story, and his filming of an accident on a public stairway made me cringe and groan as if it were actually happening to me.
Supporting cast members Robin Wright Penn (Message in a Bottle), and Spencer Treat Clark (Arlington Road) make the roles of Dunn’s estranged wife and adoring son come to life, despite one ridiculous family incident involving the boy and a gun. Charlayne Woodard (The Crucible) appears convincing as Elijah’s mother, a woman who believes in her son and helps him overcome his handicap. Her method? I can only reveal it involves comic books about super heroes. (Hope I haven’t said too much here!)
According to the Hollywood rumor mill, Unbreakable is Shyamalan’s first movie in a planned trilogy involving the same incredible characters. If true, this is good news indeed.
(Released by Touchstone Pictures and rated "PG-13" for mature themes, some disturbing violent content, and a sexual reference.)