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UNBREAKABLE

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Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 Surround, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: June 26, 2001

“Why are you looking at me like that?

“To answer your question, there are two reasons I am looking at you like this. One, it seems that in a few minutes, you will officially be the only surviving member of this train wreck. And two, you didn't break a single bone.”

Film ****

NOTE: I will not reveal any big spoilers, but I will mention a few details of the story. Since the ads for Unbreakable respectfully kept most of the plot a secret, I felt a responsibility as a reviewer to make this note.

What a true difference a year makes. Just about two years ago, a little film called The Sixth Sense came out of nowhere and stunned everyone with its stirring spookiness, a startling convincing performance from young Haley Joel Osment, and most of all with its box office gross totaling near $300 million domestically. I enjoyed the picture, but I didn't rate it as high as most people did. To be totally honest, I don't even think it deserved the Best Picture nomination it got, simply because 1999 had an endless list of great movies that I thought more highly of. Nonetheless, it was clear that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan had made a name for himself as he breathed some needed life into films with supernatural overtones, and the film's star Bruce Willis, revealed once and for all that he could deliver performances with a subtle brilliance. Both of these notions have been brilliantly illustrated, as Willis and Shyamalan re-teamed for their follow up thriller, Unbreakable, which is a film of sheer audacity and truly riveting storytelling. Following short of the previous film's box office numbers, but still a hit nonetheless, this is the movie that should have received the high level of Oscar attention that The Sixth Sense received.

The movie excels The Sixth Sense in every way imaginable. There's a striking dose of originality to the plot, as it doesn't rely on action scenes or special effects. Shyamalan does a very smart thing by savoring the numerous revelations that help build the entire story, as the movie's lead character discovers something incredibly unique about himself. His name is David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a Philadelphia security guard who works mostly out of one of the city's football coliseums. As the movie opens, we see David on board a train, which is soon derailed by colliding with another. We don't see the actual wreck, which is actually an effective touch, but it is soon learned that the accident left 131 passengers dead, with David being the only survivor, even suffering zero bruises or scratches.

How and why did David survive such a horrific incident, without any scars? One man may have the answers to David's questions. He is Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a severely handicapped man who runs a classy art/comic book gallery. Elijah, upon his first encounter with David, believes him to be a real-life superhero, just like the characterizations that exist in comics. David is a man of pure strength, possessing strong and resilient capabilities within himself, which don't exist in many ordinary people. It takes David a while to believe this aspect of himself, but Elijah keeps coming up with various clues, such as never getting sick, or seriously injured, which will lead David to realizing his true purpose in life.

Plot wise, that is about as much as I will allow myself to reveal. Like The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan throws in a stunner of a twist ending which might be a real slap in the face for some, but I found rather riveting. The movie is also based in Philadelphia, just as The Sixth Sense was, giving you the sense that Shyamalan, a native of the city, has sort of a trilogy thing going much like Kevin Smith did with his Jersey trilogy. Along with his cinematographer, Eduardo Serra, Shyamalan gives Unbreakable a remarkably gloomy look, and various set pieces, such as a train station where a crucial scene takes place. They both combine to elevate the movie into a true landmark visionary film, even though it doesn't take place in the future.

The acting in Unbreakable is of pure dynamic quality. Bruce Willis, having delivered some impressively varied roles in films like The Whole Nine Yards and The Kid, gives far and away his best screen performance to date. Willis received similar praise for the restraint he displayed in The Sixth Sense, a quality that wasn't seen from him before, but even that can't prepare you for how the actor plays his role in Unbreakable, which is of a subtle quality that even puts his recent work to shame by comparison. It is really that remarkable. It somewhat makes you forget that Willis was capable of playing wiseguy, gung ho action heroes early in his career. Then there's Samuel L. Jackson's eerie guidance as Elijah, who serves as an encouraging character, though we wonder what makes him tick right up until the closing moments of the movie. Jackson, an actor also known for his over the top energy, presents a rare subtleness to his character as well which, as you watch the film, will discover is very necessary.

I only wish that Unbreakable had received the attention that The Sixth Sense did. Judging from the movie's box office totals, which were very good but nowhere near the previous movie's numbers, many I suppose were letdown by this anticipated follow up. Hopefully, though, this superbly packaged DVD will make the movie an even bigger success. Unbreakable is a mind-blowing, subtle masterpiece from a truly gifted writer/director, who I can't wait to see another film from again!

Video ****

I predict that this will get my top vote as the best looking disc of the year. The look of this disc is so outstanding, that I seriously doubt that any future disc released in 2001 will surpass it. The video is crisp, completely sharp and deprived of absolutely any flaws whatsoever, and reflects the film's unique look even better in the DVD format. Even dark scenes, which there are a lot of in the movie, come out remarkably well. A truly astonishing accomplishment from Buena Vista, as Unbreakable is their first release in their new Vista Series collection.

Audio ****

Unbreakable could be considered a somewhat subtle, quiet movie in some respects. Then again, the movie does happen to include serious jolts of suspense, and those scenes as well as the entire presentation are given tremendous treatment in the audio department. Touchstone delivers their usual goods with a dynamic 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation. Every distinct sound heard in the movie is picked up and heard in glorious digital form. A truly perfect match for the wonderful video quality.

Features ****

A two disc set, with a list of extras that probably could have fitted on one disc, but the folks at Touchstone probably did this to ensure a grand looking disc. Nonetheless, the extras included on Unbreakable are excellent and impress quite a bit. Disc 2 includes two documentaries on the making of the movie. One looks at the making of the movie itself, while the other documentary focuses mainly on the comic book aspect of the movie. Also included is a multi-angle version of the train sequence, eight deleted scenes, a glimpse of one of M. Night Shyamalan's first homemade films, which includes a big fight scene, and two collectable illustrations by Alex Ross.

Also, when you pop in Disc no. 1, let the warning menus play, because you'll get a little surprise at the end of them, much like in the discs for Fight Club and X-Men.

Summary:

An exhilarating and suspenseful movie experience, Unbreakable is one of those movies I just can't recommend enough, mainly because I don't want to ruin any of the surprises the movie has to offer. One of last year's ten best films, and certain to be one of this years best all around DVD releases.