“Unbreakable,” or The Unbelievably Dull Adventures of Sentryman
Since I quite liked The Sixth Sense (although, after seeing it a second time, I never need to see it again in my life), I just hope that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan dug the script for Unbreakable out of his file drawer and immediately got it financed. If not, however, and Unbreakable was legitimately written after The Sixth Sense, this guy is in deep trouble. The only progression shown from The Sixth Sense to Unbreakable is straight down in all ways.
I have no doubt that Shyamalan was given a bigger budget and a longer shooting schedule for Unbreakable, and it shows — every scene looks like it was rehearsed all day long, over and over again, until every particle of energy, spontaneity, and life was slowly ground out of it. What remains are a series of severely dull, lethargic scenes where all of the actors appear to be drugged on strong downers and are all on the verge of passing out. If Bruce Willis gave any lower-key of a performance he’d turn into a pillar of salt.
Everything that worked in The Sixth Sense does not function at all in Unbreakable. Shyamalan likes to shoot scenes in what are called oners — a single long shot that may have a number of camera moves in it, but no cuts. They are very extended takes compared to what you generally see. Sometimes this can be really cool, but other times, as in Unbreakable, it can be stultifying. I began to inaudibly chant in my head, “One, two , three, cut. Cut now. Please cut. Oh, for God’s sake, cut already!”
James Newton Howard’s score, meanwhile, continually sounds like Judah Ben-Hur meeting Jesus Christ and is veritably brimming with awe and wonder. What we’re actually seeing, on the other hand, is Bruce Willis on the verge of nodding off during his scenes.
Unbreakable is utterly preposterous and the most lame excuse for a story I have encountered in years. (To back this up, I checked my list of all the films I’ve ever seen and I’d say Unbreakable is legitimately the most stupid film I’ve seen since Powder in 1995).
The film begins with printed titles explaining to us just how popular comic books really are these days — as though anyone asked — and it immediately smelled suspiciously like an apology to me, which in fact it is. It’s like M. Night Shyamalan is saying, “I know you’re going to think this is a ridiculously stupid story, but there are millions of people out there who won’t. Or, at least, that’s what I pitched the film executives, and they bought it.”
So Bruce Willis’s character lives through a train wreck where 130 of 131 people die. Right away my credibility meter went into the red. I mean, everybody doesn’t die in train wrecks, do they? They’re not like jet crashes. Anyway, Willis is unharmed so we assume he’s immortal, or possibly even dead, given our experience with The Sixth Sense. Meanwhile, a crazy comic book collector, improbably played by Samuel L. Jackson, thinks that Willis may actually be . . . okay, get this . . . a real life superhero. Like Superman or Captain America, only he’s Sentryman. Honest to God, that’s the plot. I’m not kidding. Bruce Willis’s reaction when he finds out he may be the real Superman is to appear like he’s dozing off.
But, unlike Superman who must battle Lex Luthor, evil arch-villain who wants to rule the world, or Batman, who must tangle with Mr. Freeze, who is trying to turn the whole world into an arctic tundra, Bruce Willis’s Sentryman must match wits with Mr. Glass, the evil super-villain who keeps accidentally breaking his own bones. Every time Mr. Glass takes a walk he breaks his leg. All you have to do is leave this asshole alone and he puts himself in the hospital.
M. Night Shyamalan’s next film will be the real indicator or his career. Should he make a film worse than Unbreakable, which wouldn’t be easy, I daresay they will be no hope for him.