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A hero in a time of great ordinariness,
This review is from: Unbreakable (2 Disc Collectors Edition) [DVD]  (DVD)
Writer-director Shyamalan's follow-up to his breakout film The Sixth Sense has Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a campus security guard in an icy, aqueous Philadelphia, where he holds onto the last remnants of a separate-bedroom marriage to Robin Wright Penn. The only survivor of a train wreck, Dunn crosses paths with Elijah Price (Jackson), a comic book collector suffering from brittle bones who's now convinced that the hulking, bald protector-of-the-young Dunn has the kind of superhuman powers which have been denied to his fragile self.
I didn't much care for The Sixth Sense, a major success which seemed to me cold and manipulative, its characters mere puppets to be whisked away, and proof that the best way to get ahead in Hollywood is to pull a few strings. Nonetheless, one had to admire Shyamalan's commitment to his narrative: The Sixth Sense was a slow-paced movie, but it showed the signs of a director who was paying acute attention to each facet of the production, and saying damn you to the popcorn-eaters who wished he'd just hurry things up a bit.
Unbreakable is a much better film, entering into the realms of comic books and myth-making with notable success. Like The Sixth Sense, this is a softly-spoken, low-key film, finding more interest in Willis rooting through his airing cupboard than in putting the train crash up on screen, but every moment that unfolds here has something new and interesting to look at and think about, with Shyamalan's tendency for bold colours and camera angles not only approximating those found in comic books, but also giving us a different perspective on events - and it is a perspective we may have lost, that of a child's.
The Sixth Sense offered many examples of primal fear - of the dark, of what's under the bed, of being locked in cupboards - and granted us with its camera the chance to take the Haley Joel Osment character's point of view, and thus see dead people. In every scene in Unbreakable where a child features, the camera takes on this juvenile point of view. The opening sequence, for example, has Willis stumbling through a conversation with a young woman on the train, watched by a kid through the gap in the seats in front of them. This could be seen as the apotheosis of modern American cinema - we're all infantilised by mainstream studio releases, going goo-goo over movie stars, dribbling at love scenes and wetting ourselves during shoot-outs - but also lends the drama an emotional charge, so that the audience, too, starts to look up at Dunn and consider him as a great man. It also allows us to rediscover a very childlike sense of wonder in the world, with its bright hues and strange darknesses, its small battles between good and evil made much bigger.
At any rate, this is a director who knows how to use the camera, and his framing is rarely less than perfectly worked out. One scene of dialogue, as a doctor breaks the news to Willis that he might be the only survivor of the train crash, is partially blocked by a bandaged body which begins to bleed into its swabs just as Willis, and - through him - the audience, starts to realise what it is that has taken place; Elijah's early scenes are shot as reflections in shop mirrors and television sets, so that any movement into the frame comes as disconcerting, a sucker-punch threat from a different direction to that one was expecting. Shyamalan is also, clearly, a great director of actors: Willis, allowed to be more physically present here than in The Sixth Sense, is an inspired choice given the actor's track record for playing superheroes who always have a weakness, and Jackson, with a stare to take to the grave with you, gets comic-book obsessiveness spot on, a purple-cloaked shadow of reclusive, crippled menace. For me, the film's major acting triumph was in the rediscovery of Robin Wright Penn - radiant here, her blue eyes finding their own place in the director's colour scheme.
This is a stranger, less clear-cut movie than The Sixth Sense, and stronger for it, for its ambiguity is that of the real world, where we tend not to see dead people. Jackson's Elijah, Shyamalan's curious prophet, has a powerful speech about the "mediocre times" we live in, and we have certainly lost a lot from post-modernism's battle cry of death to myths. By asking us to look at life through a child's eyes, this filmmaker has, in his last two films, professed a touching idealism - a faith in storytelling - which is as fragile as Elijah's bones or a glass cane in an era when we tend to laugh at the mythical and serious, the mystical and sincere. People have responded well to both films, which is a promising sign in such cynical times - a sign that we still possess a desire to be wide-eyed and strung along, even if only occasionally. Where The Sixth Sense had its audience coming out of the cinema only to go back over the film, to try and spot where we were twisted around the storyteller's finger, Unbreakable should - once you've debated the strange-but-not-quite-true ending - have you looking over your life, trying to spot any extraordinary features which will make you a hero in a time of great ordinariness
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Aug 2008 01:56:34 BDT
R Customer says:
Great Review. I agree that "Unbreakable" is markedly superior to "The Sixth Sense."
Posted on 10 Jan 2010 15:35:32 GMT
[Deleted by Amazon on 21 Oct 2011 08:23:29 BDT]
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