Unbreakable. This is both the title of the film as well as a strong term to describe the strength of M. Night Shyamalan's writing. Creator of The Sixth Sense, he had already established himself as a writer of engaging, thought-provoking, never common stories, but this story goes beyond the bounds even set by Sixth Sense. This film proves once and for all that Mr. Shyamalan is a writer to be followed, a writer who does not disappoint his audience, even when they go in not really knowing what to expect in the first place, as was the case with this film.
Teaming up once again with Bruce Willis, Shyamalan tells the tale of David Dunn, a morose, unassuming fellow, in an failing marriage, and as we find out in the first few minutes of the film, a man who becomes the sole survivor of a train crash that kills over 130 other people, in fact, everyone on board except for him. His wife Audrey (played by Robin Wright Penn) has been with him since a car accident ended his football career in early adulthood, but their relationship has since soured into a tense, separated lifestyle. Joseph Dunn (played by Spencer Treat Clark) a son who wants nothing more than to have a father he can be proud of. David works as a security guard at a football stadium, a humdrum life that offers little in the way of excitement and little in the way of challenges. However, after the accident, David's life is invaded by a fragile man, Elijah Price (played masterfully by Samuel L. Jackson) who begins to convince David that his survival was perhaps more than luck, more than chance, but a destiny of sorts. Elijah is convinced that David survived because he is as unnaturally hardy as Elijah is fragile. The twists and turns the story takes from then on turn this into a film that, like Sixth Sense, brings the film to a neat and tidy conclusion before derailing the storyline at the end like the train wreck that began the events of the film.
Bruce Willis demonstrates, again, that he is a wonderful actor, adept at pulling subtle emotions from his face, his body, his movements, without needing to resort to any Die Hard-style events. His morose and sullen attitude, his slow methodical movements, and his resistance to Elijah's ideas, and finally his discovery and acceptance his role. This role has Willis so low-key that, at times, he seems almost drugged, but then when you look at his face, and his eyes, one can see the intensity of his portrayal, the effort that went into looking so lethargic.
Samuel L. Jackson is, as always, wonderful as the damaged Elijah Price. The film begins with his background as a child, giving the audience insight into the mind of the man who changed David Dunn's world. He displays a tremendous range of emotions, and a careful and calculating side not seen in recent films, but evidenced in his earlier film works. This is an unusual role for Jackson, very cerebral to the exclusion of almost all physicality in his role. Elijah is the opposite of the image the title of the film conjures, someone who can be injured very easily and has a very low chance to survive over-long. His portrayal is absolutely riveting, providing the audience with someone who is so complex that, although certain assumptions can be made of his character through the film, they may or may not be accurate when all is said and done.
Robin Wright Penn and Spencer Treat Clark provide good supporting roles, but Clark is more obviously instrumental to the plot, although in retrospect, both Wright Penn and Clark's characters are integral to the events of the film. Penn will not get high acclaim for her role in this film, but to her credit it should be noted that her character is almost more sullen and morose than Willis' character. Clark, however, is very expressive facially, and moved me to tears in one particular scene with his emotive response to the events his character was experiencing.
From the technical side, M. Night Shyamalan has provided a fabulous script with incredible depth, and his direction proves top-notch, keeping the level of professionalism and talent evinced by his work in Sixth Sense. The visual sense this movie creates is one of commonality, and the unusual hidden beneath the urbane exteriors we see on the people around us from day to day. The cinematography in this film, courtesy of Eduardo Serra II, is breathtaking, providing clues to the wary and watchful viewer about the roles in the film. This level of camerawork is reminiscent of Gerry Fisher's work in Highlander, with its unconventional movements and unusual angles. James Newton Howard provides a moving and noticeable soundtrack which becomes so sublime and supportive that it truly becomes an integral component of the film, present and yet unobtrusive, providing mood that accentuates the visual feel of the film.
I give this film an A. I have one rule. Any film that makes me walk out thinking "Whoa…" is what I would consider a good film, and this one did that in spades. This is a film to see, whether it be in the theatre first run, in the theatre second run, or when it comes out on DVD.