Quality sophomore projects are rare in the movie industry. For M. Night Shymalan, creator of last year’s box office sensation The Sixth Sense, shaking free of beginner’s luck has proven difficult.
The Sixth Sense captured audiences worldwide, becoming one of the most popular movies of recent history and quickly making Shymalan one of the most sought-after writers/directors in Hollywood. But his second feature film, Unbreakable, starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, fails to be anything more than uninspiring, uninteresting and ultimately unbearable.
Willis (The Sixth Sense) plays David Dunn, a middle-aged security guard whose life is less than perfect. Living with his emotionally distant wife and child, Dunn is trying hard to land a job in New York while waking up every morning with an intense sadness he cannot overcome.
After realizing he is the sole survivor of a massive train wreck, he starts to notice that he is somehow different than most men. He has never been sick, never broken a bone and has an acute ability to sense other people’s wrongdoings simply by brushing against them. Elijah Price, an eccentric, psychotic comic book collector suffering from osteogenesis imperfecta (a degenerative bone disorder) who is played by Jackson (Great White Hype), helps Dunn understand that he has almost superhuman abilities.
This is the basic concept of this film: a comic book tale of a budding superhero laced under a thin veil of drama and what seems to be action. Shymalan uses psychological, emotional and physical elements attempting to create a compelling film, but each attempt comes across empty.
The film opens with a scene of a rapidly moving train, and the viewer only wishes that the story could move as fast it does. This movie crawls through its plot, showing the growing relationship between Willis and Jackson, while filling in the gaps with a sentimental subplot of Willis and his wife rekindling their long-lost love. As Willis grows closer to realizing his abilities, the tension grows as the audience waits for action to take place. It never does.
The suspense builds and builds, but nothing significant occurs. Willis discovers his strengths and weaknesses (water turns out to be his kryptonite, as Jackson reveals) and tries to come to terms with reality, all while trying to capture the love of his wife and connect with his son, who truly believes in his father’s unbreakable nature.
Dunn ultimately decides to take on the role of a superhero-type figure, fighting crime and defending justice. Willis, cloaked in an outfit similar to that of The Emperor in Star Wars, finds a man who has murdered a husband and wife, overtaken their home and kidnapped their daughters. But no matter how bad the situation appears, these new characters mean little to the audience, and the action is anti-climactic. The physical confrontation between Willis and the killer falls far short of being exciting because Dunn cannot be hurt – a fact directors drive home over and over again.
The characters do not grasp the viewer’s attention. They act too pensive and serious, and fail to connect with the audience or evoke sympathy for their situations. Willis and Jackson give unusually sub-par performances. Willis’ character is much like his character in The Sixth Sense, remaining docile and soft-spoken throughout the film. Jackson brings little to the screen except cheesy lines that make viewers cringe. The rest of the cast is mediocre at best.
The only aspects of Unbreakable that help to elevate the film out of the hole it digs for itself is its creative cinematography and the suspense it builds.
Shyamalan uses interesting camera angles to convey his ideas, including various images shot through reflections and scenes filmed upside-down. In the opening sequence of the film, the audience watches Willis converse with a woman on the train from the perspective of someone looking through the gap in the seats in front of the actors. Perhaps the most interesting part of the film, this scene opens the movie on an ironically good note.
Shyamalan also creates suspenseful moments with stylistic grace. The use of quick shots, rapid flashbacks and loud musical crashes build the suspense and excitement. The problem is, after all the tense moments, nothing happens. The audience is ready for a climax only to find that none exists.
Shyamalan made film history with the famous trick ending in The Sixth Sense. Not to stray from the formula that made him famous, a trick ending is thrown into Unbreakable, too. But unlike in The Sixth Sense, this twist simply confuses viewers and makes the film even more sophomoric than before. The trick ending is simply not surprising.
Unbreakable will storm the box office, with the director’s past cinematic triumph and actors like Willis and Jackson luring movie-goers into the theaters. However, do not expect to see a breakout young star like Haley Joel Osment in this film. Do not expect to see any dead people, unless, of course, you look at the lifeless performances of the actors. Not even someone unbreakable could save this movie.
Unbreakable is now playing in theatres.