Unbreakable

Unbreakable ★½

Because of his formal and thematic concerns M. Night Shyamalan has to give himself over to some very dumb and poor screenwriting techniques here. Early on he establishes Willis and Jackson as the film's two perspectives, so we never get any scenes without one or both of them. On paper I like this idea but, because of the heavy exposition this film (apparently) requires, in practice we get a lot of bad moments.

After the train crash we have Willis, completely unhurt and confused as to what exactly is going on, sitting with a doctor who may as well be a police officer questioning him about a murder. The doctor keeps prodding him about where on the train he was, what on the train he did, if he remembers anything. It's a monument to terrible bedside manner, yet the film has so many scenes like this involving all kinds of characters that you can't write it off as Shyamalan intentionally creating a "shitty doctor" character. Were it not for a commitment to perspective he could have had the doctor be publicly astounded at the miracle of Willis' unscathed body, congratulating him for his luck, wishing the family well, and then, privately, among colleagues or authorities wondering about plausibility. To be confounded and hostile to a patient's face is extremely poor form.

Speaking of form! A lot can be said about the film's long takes, and the amount of acting shifts that are required to happen in an unbroken fashion. For the most part I appreciate them, and their relative humility. They don't try to call a lot of attention to themselves (the early scene on the train is a little obvious, but otherwise quite good). Most of the time, though, it feels like Shyamalan conceived of the shot and then wrote the script to justify it. The worst offender comes when Willis is hunting through his closet and Wright comes to talk to him about their marriage and the possibility of starting over. She blabbers so long, and with almost no verbal or physical reaction from Willis -- we only see the back of his head the entire shot, because if he were to react intensely Shyamalan knows it would feel dishonest not to cut to him -- that whatever movie-magic Shyamalan was hoping to catch from her acting is undercut by the artificiality of its construction.

There are other plot elements that feel like Shyamalan buttering his bread on every single side he can find. Early on Willis finds a card on his window asking how many days he can remember being sick. This starts a ten minute series of scenes in which Willis asks everyone he knows if he has ever been sick before. He is denial about never having had an illness, but, worse, Willis occasionally plays it as if the character is actually unsure. What is the audience gaining from this transparent investigation? Wouldn't it be better to come up with multiple kinds of examples, and for Willis to briefly think about each one and then have to face the facts? Instead he wakes up his estranged wife in the middle of the night to insist to her that he must have been sick at some point, but he can't remember, and doesn't she remember? While this is somewhat beside the point, I struggled to understand her desire to reconcile when it's interactions like this that dominate their screen time. I'd be pissed if someone who is essentially my roommate woke me up at 1am to ask me whether or not they'd had a cold as far as I knew.

The acting is also a problem. Sam Jackson hams it up in a way that I would grow accustomed to in bad movies, but seems a little early on in his career to have stooped to here. Especially in a movie that is really trying to ride on the caliber of its performances to carry clunky monologues. Every time he tries to explain the minutiae of comic book art I cringe. Similarly the interplay between Willis and his son, clearly intended to replicate the lighting-in-a-bottle of Willis and Osment, falls way flat. Willis plays his depressed dad character with a quietness that reads as dour and closed-off, and the child actor is one of the more unpleasant-looking children I have seen on screen. Wet-eyed, whinging, and with the Supercuts version of Osment's weird bowl cut. There is almost no chemistry or charming interplay here.

I thought for sure this would be my favorite Shyamalan film, but after this I think I'm ready to give up on him as a director. I liked The Sixth Sense when I watched it recently, but everything else has seemed laughable in a way that I don't find particularly fun to laugh at. It makes me feel like a smug dick. A ton of people I follow on this website love this movie and love Shyamalan in general, and I watch this movie and my sincere reaction is "...Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?" That doesn't make me feel good. I like you all, and I respect what you have to say. But here I do not get it.

Credit where credit is due, though. This is a movie made in 2000 that recognizes comic book nerds are objectively worse humans than even burnout jocks are.

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