Why Unbreakable was Somewhat Nifty-Keen

I saw Unbreakable without ever having seen The Sixth Sense, the breakthrough film by M. Night Shyamalan. Like the prior movie, Unbreakable was written, produced, and directed by the man everyone apparently calls "Night," and I was curious as to what the fuss was about.

It's an interesting movie -- a superhero movie that isn't a superhero movie. Story-wise and acting-wise, I rather liked it. Bruce Willis did a fine job as the normal guy who just wants to be left alone, and Samuel L. Jackson was magnificent as the man who has dedicated his life to making reality work like a comic book. That's what's especially entertaining about the film -- the fact Jackson's Elijah Price wants so much to make life into a comic book. At first you think that he's simply delusional, then you start to realize that he's onto something -- and then you get the ending, where everything comes together perfectly. Elijah's revelation at the end (which I can't give away because it will spoil the whole thing, and even if you have no intention of seeing it, it's impossible to sum up without going through the entire plot, which I don't feel like doing). It's a very nicely structured film, and I'd love to read the screenplay at some point.

The reason for that is that I'd love to see how good this movie would be in the hands of a more talented director. Night is way too fond of his own craft -- the movie is full of fancy-shmancy camera angles and artsy cinematography, none of which is used to any effect beyond a sort of "looka me, I'm directing!" It's the cinematographic equivalent of masturbating, and that's really best left done in private.

On top of that, the pacing is horrendously languid. I don't expect the fast-paced action of a Richard Donner or a Robert Rodriguez, but in a movie that's supposed to be about heroism and about convincing someone that he should be a superhero, there should be some kind of build to a crescendo. Unfortunately, Unbreakable doesn't so much build as slither. (This isn't aided by Willis's performance, which is very understated. The script calls for him to be someone who wakes up every morning with sadness, and whose marriage is breaking up.)

Still, it's an enjoyable movie, and certainly worth seeing for Jackson's performance alone, which is great work.

[First posted on sff.people.krad at SFF.net on 18 December 2000.]

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