Review: “Unbreakable”

Some TV shows, as they progress through their seasons, find their stories becoming more sophisticated and complex with a streamlined look which comes across as being “more professional”. On the downside the new style feels contrived and in many cases loses the emotional impact and freshness of the earlier material – good examples of this is “The X-Files” & “Buffy”.

M. Night Shylaman has done a similar thing with his follow-up effort to “The Sixth Sense” – the script seems smarter and the characters more developed whilst the ‘goings on’ of the film is much more evenly laid out than the “one big clump at the end” feel of “The Sixth Sense”. But like what happened to those shows, it can’t helped but feel contrived – you know you’re being manipulated which isn’t anywhere near as fun sadly, why bother emotionally investing in something when you know its basically cheating you – even taunting you like when the mother tells her son the comic book has “a surprise ending”.

You may remember I wasn’t a major fan of “The 6th Sense”. I thought it was a very good movie with great performances, good atmosphere and a clever twist – though the pacing clunked. “Unbreakable” has the same problem but only a diluted version of the other strengths with Jackson being the only one to come close to Osment or Collette’s performances in ‘Sixth’. Jackson’s character of Elijah Price is interesting and in a film purposely designed to make things seem bland, he can’t help but stand out above the rest.

The others though are disappointing – Bruce Willis has a sourpuss look that you saw in the trailer, well he keeps that face on for the entire movie. Robin Wright Penn does a pretty ordinary job and other than a quite good restaurant scene, she and Willis have ziltch in terms of chemistry. Clark as their son is forgettable too. Some of their scenes drag on endlessly – Willis spends 15 minutes asking people if he was ever sick in his life, can’t he remember himself as I know I sure would.

This is one of those movies which would probably have been a really good script – the setup of the first act (basically what you see in the teaser) is intriguing, the eventual concept is clever, and the ending interesting on paper. Nevertheless on screen, for a majority of the screentime, one thinks this is more a story suited to the world of TV movies than the big screen and would be if it weren’t for the big stars in it.

Shylaman underplays everything from the bare font credit titles to the poorly lit barren rooms, it tries to feel ‘everyday’ and goes too far – there’s slums in third world countries more colourful than places in this. There’s definitely an underlying atmosphere of intrigue, though actual suspense is confined to one scene only toward the film’s end whilst the action is annoying – the suspense builds up and up and then most of the time the screen cuts to black at the crucial moment.

That may please the arthouse crowd who feel the buildup is enough, but mainstream film fans are only going to see it as a cop out and feel unsatisfied – its also the reason why there’s such debate over the ending, the film is basically a setup with no climax. The screening I was in there was a LOT of snickering and laughing (including me), some at intended moments while others at the pure ridiculousness of some points.

Now we come to my thoughts on the film with spoilers. This is the most unconventional, realistic and ‘human’ superhero movie likely to be made, but does that make it the best? No, but its one of the better ones. It really depends upon how you like your superhero comics. I’m no major comic fan (my biggest collection is Uncle Scrooge) though I do see the appeal and really enjoy things based on them like the “Batman” animated series. But what I do like about them is the escapism – tales set in a hyper-realistic modern world where the bad guys are all demented psychos with thematic costumes and the good guys are armed with an arsenal the CIA can only dream of.

I much prefer to see a tale of The Joker scheming to blow up Gotham City than say a story of Bruce Wayne visiting his parent’s grave again for some anniversary. “Unbreakable” is in the style of the latter – its a very down to earth ‘origin’ movie and as with many superheroes in comics its these which aren’t particularly interesting. “Unbreakable” feels like the first “Superman” movie – its a necessary step to establish the characters, now in the next film we can bring out the big guns and flashy budget.

The four questions people keep asking: Is this a highlight of the season? No. Is it a good movie? Yes. Is it better than “The Sixth Sense”? Definitely no, does the ending suck? Well I accepted it fine, though I can understand why people would be pissed. Comic book fans who like something different will really get a kick out of this. Most audiences though will find it tedious, lacking in energy and most of all unsatisfying. Make no mistake this is a film not designed to appeal to everyone, though some will appreciate it. It only somewhat appealed to me, you will have to decide for yourself on this one’.