Every film era has one director that is more fascinating than (usually) his peers. The Golden Age had Ed Wood, New Hollywood had George Lucas, and now we have M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan’s newest film, The Visit, has just been released, causing me to look back on this eccentric director’s work.
ShyamaDalaiLama has a bit of a bad rep nowadays for making movies like The Happening, which features scenes where Mark Wahlberg begs a fern to spare him and this little gem…
However, I like to be positive, so for this film review, I’ve decided to look at one of ShyaYoMama’s best and most overlooked films, Unbreakable (2000).
Unbreakable was made right on the heels of the huge critical and commercial success that was The Sixth Sense. Shyamamandingo had a lot to live up to. On top of that, Unbreakable featured a cast that included Bruce Willis and Samuel L. “[expletive]” Jackson. At the time, despite raving critical reviews, Unbreakable didn’t do that well at the box office. It profited, certainly, but it wasn’t nearly the success that The Sixth Sense was. However, like a fine wine, it has aged well. But first, a little context.
Unbreakable pays homage to superhero comics. In buckets. If it were released today, it would be heralded as a fresh and sobering look at a superhero if he existed in the real world. However, it was released in 2000, when both the first Spiderman and X-Men movie were released. No other superhero had come out in quite some time, and the world had only seen a trickle of what would eventually become a flood of superhero movies. In just this year, so far, there have been three. And this is a light year. There are going to be sixteen more superhero films in the next four years. To say Unbreakable was born in the wrong time is an understatement.
The story of Unbreakable is about two men, David Dunn (Willis) and Elijah Price (Jackson). Price is a man who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a genetic disease which leaves the bones very weak, to the point where simple falls down the stairs can break bones. He develops a love for comic books and superheroes as a response, and eventually becomes a rare comic dealer. Dunn, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. He is involved in a major train crash, which kills everyone but him, who not only survives, but doesn’t even have a scratch on him. After hearing about Dunn on the news, Price becomes convinced that Dunn is a real-life superhero. Price believes that because his condition makes him incredibly weak, then possibly there must be a condition that is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Dunn is initially reluctant to believe, but eventually starts to think he might actually be a superhero.
Shazamalan’s script is brilliant. Not a lot happens in terms of action, yet it is still riveting from beginning to end. It can be both amusing in its dry humor and heartbreaking in its character development. Almost every single character has a depressing past or present. A fair warning, the film gets very violent very quickly at the climax (just like my ex) and should not be seen by the innocent.
Shyamalamadingdong’s direction is even better. He used two elements to influence his direction. Long takes and comic books. He took many long takes (in the first two scenes which take place over five minutes, there are only two shots) and the rest of the shots were based off of commonly used panels in comic books to pay reference to his inspiration.
Of course, no ShyaYoYoMa movie can be reviewed without discussion of the twist. Without spoiling it, I will merely say that I already had an idea of what the twist was before watching the film, yet I was still shocked to learn it at the end. To accentuate the shock, I will only say that my jaw literally dropped.
While ShyaquilleO’Neil may have a bad reputation today, it is worth noting that he was once one of the most highly revered directors in Hollywood, and that reverence was in part due to films like Unbreakable. It is a film that deserves more attention now more than ever. I hope I have convinced you to see this film through this review, because ShyO’realParis’s masterpiece did not get the recognition it required when it was first released, and it deserves more than it has.
Unbreakable gets a 7/7 (cue angelic music).