I try to go out to the movies at least once a week, and every once in a while a movie comes along that so jars my perspective that I want to stay in the theater and see the movie again, and sometimes I do. Director/Writer M. Night Shamalans "The Sixth Sense" was just such a movie, and so is his latest, "Unbreakable" (and in both cases I did stay and see them again, and came back to the theater a few weeks later to see them yet again on a slow week). Once again, it has a surprise ending that I didnt see coming that knocked me on my ear, but made perfect sense and even seemed inevitable on subsequent viewing. And once again, master suspense director Shamalan proves you dont need special effects or gore to keep an audience on the edge of their seats!
Without giving away any spoilers, the premise of the film involves David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a quiet, humble but flawed security guard. He has had a lifetime free from injury and illness and becomes the miraculously unharmed sole survivor of a terrible train wreck. Eventually, a mysterious stranger, Elijah Price, who suggests a fantastic possibility, repeatedly approaches him. Elijah suffers from a rare genetic disease known as Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which renders his bones so brittle even the slightest fall or hit can break them. This illness has given him a life of sickness and suffering. As we see in heartrending flashbacks beginning with Elijahs birth with broken arms and legs, what has sustained Elijah through his life of agony and infirmity is the love of his mother and his passion for comic books (as an adult he is a collector of comic book art). Elijah believes that if he is at one end of lifes spectrum, there must be another person at the other end of it, an unbreakable one whose destiny is to protect and help others. When Elijah hears the key words in the news reports, "there is a sole survivor, and he is miraculously unharmed," he believes he has found the unbreakable one! This film deals with eternal questions like the mystery of senseless evil in the form of accidents and birth defects. It explores what makes a hero as we see David reluctantly discover the hero within himself. The film explores jusr how can we find a purpose and meaning in tragedy and daily life as evident as David and Elijah search for and finally find their purpose.
Bruce Willis gives a brilliant, understated performance as an unfulfilled man with a broken marriage leading a life of quiet desperation, who is forced to become more than he felt he could be. Samuel L. Jackson is riveting as a brilliant, mysterious, tortured man obsessed with driving Willis character to discover his full potential. The supporting cast is excellent also. Robin Wright Penn (Jenny in Forrest Gump) is Willis estranged wife, a physical therapist who ironically ends up working on Jacksons character after he takes a fall. Spencer Treat Clark (Lucius in Gladiator) is Willis frightened and insecure son who desperately wants his father to be his hero. Finally, Charlayne Woodard (Gina Wilkes on TVs Chicago Hope) is Elijahs proud, loving and nurturing mother who uses cajoling and comic books to draw her son out into the world time and again each time he is injured. As with "The Sixth Sense," there is a small cast of characters that we get to know intimately, and Shamalan gets another cameo, this time as a drug dealer Willis character foils.
"Unbreakable" parts company with "The Sixth Sense" in a number of ways, both visually and aurally. James Newton Howards evocative score gives an emotional tone of tragedy, desperation and painful triumph to this film, and like the story it will stay with you long after you leave the theater. While Shamalans trademark use of certain colors and perspectives gives clues for the audience as in "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable" also introduces a 4-color look common to comic books superimposed over a dull realistic world. The cinematography of "Unbreakable" is also a radical departure for Shamalan. Many shots are framed like a comic book cell, with motion generally coming from camera movement instead of people, abrupt fades, and god-like perspectives from either above or below rather than the eye-level shots that were used in "The Sixth Sense." All these combine to create a film that can be experienced on two levels, as a realistic tale of two mens struggle to find meaning in tragedy, and as a graphic novel brought to life.
The DVD packaging is a suitably heroic undertaking, a 2-disk set for the main movie and the special features. The movie disk offers Dolby Digital 5.1 and higher-quality DTS six channel sound. The special features disk has fully produced deleted scenes (introduced by the director with backgrounds and explanations why they were taken out), two documentaries (a behind-the-scenes featuring Bruce Willis and a comic-book discussion featuring Samuel L. Jackson and several Comics luminaries) and a multi-angle version of the train station sequence. If you liked "The Sixth Sense," youre looking for a good thriller with a touch of the fantastic, or you just want your head shaken up a bit, then this is a must-see movie for you!