December 20, 2000

Unbreakable

A fascinating and unsettling mystery. Rich in drama, thick with symbolism, and quietly threatening. I rewatched Unbreakable in 2011, for the first time since I saw it in the theater in 2000. The storytelling is so dense, and the twist ending is so compelling, that it deserved to be watched a second time a lot sooner than ten years later!

After a decade, I can finally bestow the "Rewards Repeat Viewing" medal on Unbreakable.

Like the best 'twist ending' movies (Presumed Innocent and The Usual Suspects come to mind) it works well from both perspectives, knowing the twist and not knowing the twist.
What also struck me the second time around is the "unsettling" part. I specifically noticed the cinematography. What the camera was pointed at, how it moved, how the shots were framed, I usually don't think a lot about this unless it's a Scorsese movie and I'm totally enthralled. In Unbreakable, the camera never let's you settle down and feel safe. After David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is caught in a catastrophic train accident, you never feel safe again. It's like the movie is holding its breath for 106 minutes. There's one scene where Elijah (Samuel L Jackson) has conspired to receive physical therapy from Dunn's wife (Robin Wright) specifically so he can talk to her. It's a creepy stalker move, and he has no harmful physical intent -- he's almost completely crippled, after all -- but the sense of danger and ominous portent is thick in the air, and the way the camera moves around them during their increasingly tense conversation only adds to the chills.

 The Rotten Tomatometer = 68%. Their consensus aptly encapsulates the movie as "a quietly suspenseful film that intrigues and engages" However, it felt like a letdown after the truly thrilling and scary Sixth Sense. It's reputation was cemented "Unbreakable is ponderous, too long, inert" (take your pick). I disagree. The "holding your breath" feeling is David's latent mystery waiting to be discovered in himself. Unbreakable is more of a mystery than a thriller. There's no action until the very end. Dunn's life is never really in danger until the third act of the film. Elijah's chase scene and tumble down the stairs is hardly an action sequence, but when that guy vaults over the turnstile and Elijah sees the nickel-plated gun? What a thrill.

Don't let the slowly diminishing career of writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan deter you. Admittedly I owned the two-disc Vista Series DVD for a long time before I said "tonight's the night I want to rewatch Unbreakable", but I promise you it's worth a second look. My grade "A". (Maybe soon I'll rewatch Signs or The Village. I think I have them both on DVD?)