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Unbreakable Review

-by Andrew Goletz and Erich Schoeneweiss

(spoiler warning)

Andrew: I’ve decided that there is no way I can do this film justice by reviewing it without giving away plot points that may be considered spoilers. You know from the trailers that Bruce Willis plays a man who is the only survivor of a major train wreck. In fact, he doesn’t even have a scratch on him. You also know that Samuel Jackson plays a strange looking man who poses the question, ‘are your ready for the truth?’ If you are, continue reading after this paragraph. If you aren’t, get off the Internet and go and see this film. Bruce Willis gives the performance of his career and Samuel Jackson is as better than he has ever been. It’s a daring, compelling film and my favorite movie of the year. I’d go further and say it’s the best film I’ve seen since ‘The Matrix’. Go to the film and see for yourself. Or continue reading and hear me out.

Erich: I strongly disagree with Andrew.  Wow!  You’re probably all surprised now, aren’t you?  OK, sarcasm aside, this movie was actually long and boring…that is until the last twenty minutes.  So let’s let Andrew spoil everything and than I’ll jump back in.

Andrew: Sigh. Boring? I can tell where this is going.

Erich:  Um…sorry to have jumped back in so soon; however, I just finished reading the rest of Andrew’s review and he’s basically written the Unbreakable For Dummies treatment.  So I’ll give you my spoiler free review for those of you who have not yet seen the movie.

I was ready to walk out of this film after the first hour.  It plods along at a snails pace.  The clues and answers to just what is it that kept Bruce Willis alive in the train wreck are extremely slow in developing.  It is not a good sign when audiences are paying attention to camera movement and other technical elements instead of story.

Bruce Willis was commendable, but his performance in Sixth Sense was more complete.  His character here was very passive.  He is sort of just floundering through life, and when he makes an attempt to break from his normal patterns he does so with very little conviction.  Sam L. Jackson is more bizarre looking than anything. Is it just me, or is he working so much these days that he’s just sort of playing himself now in different costumes?  There was very little here that differentiated his performance from the multitude of other films I’ve seen him in lately. Robin Wright Penn was wasted.  She has nothing to do but basically stand in doorways, so you can’t blame Julian Moore for passing this up to make Hannibal.

So what about the big surprise ending we’ve heard so much about?  Yes, it did save the movie for me.  The last twenty minutes keep me from giving this film a completely negative review.  Based on the ending, I actually liked the movie’s story (Note: Not the actual movie); however, most of America will not.  Those outside of a certain geeky social class (to reveal that would be in essence to give away the soul of the film) will most likely find the ending cheesy…even laughable.  I am curious to see what happens next.  There are rumors that this is the first installment in a planned trilogy and the ground work is there for the story to continue.  I do hope if it does, it does so at a slightly faster pace.

In all, I admire M. Night for the testicular fortitude to make this film.  If not for the enormous success of The Sixth Sense he would have had a hard time getting a studio to bite on this story; however, Unbreakable is a step backwards for him.  It is not as engaging, emotionally or intellectually as The Sixth Sense was, and in many ways it alienates the audience.  I don’t foresee large box office numbers, or major awards for this film.  Once the word is out I believe it’s audience will start to shrink considerably, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it sees a drop of over 50% in box office going into it’s second weekend.

I have a few other notes after Andrew’s spoiler ridden review for those of you who continue on…

(Your Last Spoiler Warning) 

Andrew: “Unbreakable’ is the best comic book movie ever made. ‘X-Men’ and ‘The Crow’ were faithful adaptations of comic books and ‘The Matrix’ is in essence, a true comic book film with all of the classic elements. But none of those films have been as complete as this one. They either stay too close to the source material with the fancy costumes or freakish villains (Batman, X-Men, The Crow) or don’t claim to represent comics at all (The Matrix). From the opening credits, where the audience is given several facts and statistics about comic books, ‘Unbreakable’ tips its hat as to what it’s going to be about and more importantly, that it is going to handle the subject respectfully and with a maturity not seen before.

Bruce Willis stars as David Dunne (the alliterative name is a nod to classic comic book characters like Peter Parker, Reed Richards, Bruce Banner and more), a security guard in Philadelphia with a son, Jeremy (Spencer Treat Clark), and a marriage on the rocks. Dunne still lives with his wife, (played by Robin Wright Penn) but they keep separate bedrooms and Dunne has been actively searching for work in New York.

We’re first introduced to Dunne as he is returning from an interview in NYC on a train. A young woman sits next to him and immediately Dunne takes off his wedding ring and begins to flirt, shamelessly. It’s Shyamalan’s talent as a director that he can make something as simple as flirting compelling to watch. Another director and actor may have done the scene too forceful or too subdued. Willis and Shyamalan handle it perfectly. Shortly thereafter, the train grinds, the lights flicker and we’re drawn into the next scene: a local Philadelphia hospital. Dunne is being told that he is the only survivor of a train wreck which has taken over 100 lives and that more miraculously, he doesn’t have a scratch on him.

At the same point, we’re introduced to Elijah Price, played by Samuel Jackson. He’s been afflicted with a rare genetic disorder, which causes his bones to be extremely brittle. He was born with broken bones and has suffered over 50 breaks in his life. Teased as a young boy and given the moniker ‘Mr.Glass’ (for being so frail), Price shelters himself from the outside world until his mother brings him out. She tells Elijah that she has a present waiting for him on a bench across the street, but that he has to go retrieve it himself. He does and opens the package to reveal a comic book.

Price’s mother tells Elijah that there will be a new comic waiting for him on that bench every day and all he needs to do is go outside to get it. Comic books offer Elijah an escape that many can relate to. Filled with stories of fantastic characters and situations, comics can offer one an escape that books don’t provide. They’re both a written and visual medium.

Price grows up to become the head of an art gallery specializing in original comic art. He’s stronger, more self-assured, but something is missing in his life. One of the central themes in comic books is the yin/yang relationship between characters in the stories. Elijah believes that if he is cursed with being so fragile, that there must be someone out there who is his opposite; a person of great strength and power. He has spent his life searching the news for stories of disasters, and in particular, for a disaster in which a person miraculously survives.

Dunne and Price’s lives begin to slowly converge. Dunne is left a message on his car: ‘how many days in your life have you been sick’ which makes him question whether he does indeed have some ability. Early on, Dunne meets Price for the first time in Price’s art gallery where Elijah explains his theory to him. Dunne is skeptical, but the two have a connection that can’t be disputed. As David goes about his life, Elijah is there almost at every turn, making him see beyond what is ‘normal’ and forcing him to come to grips with who is really is.

One brilliant scene has David and Jeremy in the basement of their home. David is lifting weights and his son is pushing him to the limits, adding more weight. This moment of self discovery, the origin, if you will, is wonderful. You can see the joy and awe in both David and Jeremy as he pushes himself beyond any reasonable limits.

Shyamalan deals with each of these moments with precision and realism. He isn’t trying to give the audience a roller-coaster thrill ride of an action movie. The best comic books don’t contain mindless fight scenes. The best comic books are those handled by writers who know how to slow the pacing and let the action and excitement come from quiet realizations rather than throwing a car across the street or fighting a strange super-villain. Shyamalan knows this. You aren’t on the edge of your seat, heart racing because of the non-stop action. You’re sitting back in your seat, eyes wide, watching the genesis of a true hero. This is Joseph Campbell’s archetype of a hero’s journey, not Joel Schumaker’s shameless over the top camp.

All of the classic elements of a comic are here: the unwilling hero, the young eager sidekick and the mysterious person who seems to hold the answers to all. Shyamalan takes his time with each discovery. His gift as a film-maker and story teller are evident here. Don’t just watch David during the familiar hospital scene. Listen to the conversation with the doctor but look in the foreground at the man dying before your eyes.  Every scene has relevance to the next. Each word of dialogue is a piece of the puzzle. You don’t want to miss anything. The film is neither fast paced or slow paced, it’s steady paced, like reading a good comic book. Shyamalan propels you from one panel to the next. It may not have the blowout action, but you can’t wait to ‘turn the page’.

Bruce Willis gives the best performance of his career. Russell Crowe is deserving of an Oscar nomination for his work in ‘Gladiator’, but he may not get one because the Academy doesn’t like ‘action movies’. Willis may lose out because of he’s stereotyped as being a one note, action hero. More than ‘Pulp Fiction’ or ’12 Monkeys’ or even ‘The Sixth Sense’, Bruce gives a performance that is perfect for the character. There isn’t one scene where he holds back or goes over the top, he hits everything just right, and for that he deserves a nomination.

Samuel Jackson also wonderful as Elijah. Jackson is great in just about any role that he’s in, but he sees born to play this role. I can’t imagine anyone else as Elijah, just as I can’t see anyone other than Willis as Dunne. Robin Wright is less annoying than usual and Shyamalan gets another great performance out of a young actor with Stuart.

The movie is so much more than I could even begin to write about here. The review is already longer than usual and to go into every brilliant, minute detail would ruin the experience for you. Suffice to say, the mysteries unravel in a steady motion until the ‘big payoff’. The ending may not be as ‘shocking’ as the one in ‘The Sixth Sense’ but in a lot of ways, it’s even better. When you leave the theater, you know this is ‘the way it was suppose to end’.  With ‘Unbreakable’, Shyamalan has created a new type of comic book hero and possibly bridged the gap between comic book fan and comic book cynic.

This is the first movie in a long time to live up to its pre-release hype. It’s a movie that I hope will inspire and ‘wow’ and lead to a better sensibility in regards to comic books and the stories within. It’s flawless. It’s the best picture of the year.

Erich:  Now that you know this is a comic book film, I would like to say that I do agree with Andrew in his assessment that this is a great, if not the best, comic book movie ever; HOWEVER, in spirit only.  It encompasses all the classic elements of the superhero comic, and there is a point in the movie where the light switch went off in my head and I pieced everything together.  So while I loved this film from a personal, comic book fan boy mentality, I can not in good faith give this film a great review.  Due to the negativity being a comic book fan often encapsulates, it’s a joy to see a movie such as Unbreakable, in which comic books are not used for cheap laughs, but are seen as a true art form.  I simply wish the film had been more entertaining. 

Rating: Andrew: 4 Griffins (out of 4)

Erich: 2 Griffins

Overall: 3 Griffins

(Ed Note) If you like this movie, do yourself a favor and go to the phone book and look up a local comic book store. Find it, go there and browse through the racks. You may be surprised as to what you find there. Like a good book or video store, a good comic store will have something for everyone: mystery, crime, adventure, romance, fantasy, children and of course superhero themes. You’re cheating yourself if you don’t bother to look.

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