After The Sixth Sense scored big with critics and garnered 6 Oscar nominations, director M. Night Shyamalan made a movie with various similarities to what most would consider, his crown jewel. Unbreakable has notable parallels with The Sixth Sense, the most obvious being Bruce Willis in the leading role, but the film also possesses a similar tone and delves a bit into the supernatural (though not as deeply as The Sixth Sense did). It also contains a twist ending - a signature of M. Night Shyamalan - though this element is ultimately the least satisfying part of the film. Thankfully, the preceding hour and a half, do more than enough to save this surprisingly strong follow-up.
David Dunn is returning from a job interview, traveling by train. Unfortunately, the train gets into a major wreck, killing everyone aboard - except for David, who hasn't even a broken bone. David is then consulted by a man named Elijah, who has a disease that causes his bones to break easily. Elijah - a comic book nerd - begins to wonder if David is invincible. And then, he wonders if David might be a superhero.
The most impressive thing that Shyamalan does with Unbreakable, is maintain a brilliantly dark and mildly creepy atmosphere from beginning to end. The film moves slowly, carefully crafting the appropriate tone for the film. The camera angles (most of which are highly unusual) are interesting as well, never quite focusing on the primary characters, making even the most simple scenes feel unsettling. This creates a level of tangible anxiety, which is fascinating as much of the film is occupied entirely by conversation. Essentially, Shyamalan has created suspense out of thin air, in what is an absolute triumph in directing.
The premise itself is interesting as well. It's a super hero film, but without action. It's thoughtful and smartly thought out. One could call it a "super hero film for snobs," but that's discrediting its ability to entertain. I admit that a lot of audiences are likely to be bored watching this film, but for the right niche, Unbreakable will be a delightfully twisted treat.
Moments of brief suspense are dispersed throughout the picture, though it's not paced as well as The Sixth Sense. Some scenes are shockingly dark in their implications. This is a super hero film that feels real. It feels like it could really happen. It's gritty at times, and doesn't shy away from consequence.
The characters themselves are fully dimensional. David maintains primary relations with three other characters, each is done superbly. The relationship between David and his son are especially convincing and impressive, but also very notable are his scenes with Elijah, and with his wife, Audrey.
Unbreakable does suffer from a handful of things, though. Mainly character oversights and the occasional bad dialogue. But the most significant issue is the ending. And in all honesty, the ending is fine. It's good. It wraps things up. But at the same time, it's deeply flawed.
Like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable ends with a twist. The Sixth Sense had a twist that worked on every conceivable level. Unbreakable fails to work on many of those levels. For one, the film is somewhat dependent on the twist, as it wraps up several loose ends. The twist also suffers simply because its less shocking than that of The Sixth Sense, and honestly, not as interesting. The twist isn't bad, it just falls short of the greatness of The Sixth Sense.
Bruce Willis delivers a performance that's equal in strength to his work in The Sixth Sense, though he is somewhat outshined by Samuel L. Jackson who delivers a surprisingly thoughtful performance as Elijah Price. Spencer Treat Clark, delivers a great child performance as David's son, and David's wife, played by Robin Wright, is also notably impressive.
James Newton Howard's score is appropriately creepy, but is also very melodious and frequently interesting. Though it unfortunately gives way to modern-styled percussion on two occasions (each time it's jarring and irritating), it succeeds in enhancing the atmosphere, and being an entertaining score on its own terms.
Not perfect, but mesmerizing nonetheless, Unbreakable certainly doesn't top The Sixth Sense, but it comes surprisingly close. The directing is brilliant, the acting is great, and though the twist is lacking, it still provides appropriate resolution. Unbreakable is extremely experimental - perhaps too much so for most audiences - but it's an intriguing and thoughtful origin story with more guts than most other super hero films on the market.