Jade's Trick

Reviews, Spotlights, and Randomosity of all things under the sun.

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Location: Hartford, Connecticut, United States

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

"I think this is where you and I shake hands." -- Unbreakable

See? I said I'd get back to reviewing and indeed I did. Enjoy!

Unbreakable was the first movie M. Night Shyamalan did after The Sixth Sense, and it flopped. Unfairly so, however, because it was incorrectly marketed as a thriller. As a speculative fiction / drama piece, however, it awes.

Basic plot summary: Bruce Willis survives a horrible train wreck, meets Samuel L. Jackson as a man with extremely brittle bones, and finds out he's a superhero. See, here's where the movie was mistagged: it poses a "What if" question and then shows us a character on a self-discovery mission rather than spending the 107 minutes trying to get out blood pumping. Additionally, unlike in The Sixth Sense, the ending doesn't make the movie. Yes, it's a damned bizarre, interesting, clever, and enlightening ending, but the movie won't be ruined for you if someone tells you going in "Oh, and by the way: Bruce Willis is a ghost."

Let's talk about the drama. The acting makes or breaks drama, and the acting here is magnificent. I couldn't even really tell that these were actors. The lines they deliver so well are so realistic that, again, it becomes impossible to tell that they are, in fact, lines and not merely spontaneously generated speech. Due in large part to the drama and the way the drama takes place, this superhero movie doesn't feel at all like a superhero movie. And yes, that's a good thing, at least here.

This realism juxtaposes, and greatly strengthens, the somewhat shakey speculative elements of the film. Bruce Willis has four basic superpowers: 1) super strength (although he has to exert himself, he can seemingly lift as much as he has to), 2) super toughness (he survived a car crash in high school and a train crash more recently, for example), 3) super immune system (he has never been sick, with one exception due to his weakness, water), and 4) limited telepathy (he gets mental pictures of when someone's "done something wrong"). These are never really explained; there's no father who worked at a nuclear plant, and he wasn't struck by lightning while skinny dipping or something similar. He just has these powers and always had. However, in a fit of circular logic, we can accept this irrational premise because the rest of the movie works so realistically, assuming the premise is correct. It's a really delicious dilemma that works quite well.

I won't bore you with my musings on every single part of the movie, but I simply must touch on the cinematics before I bid you adieu. Say what you will about Mr. Shyamalan, but it can't be denied that the man knows where to plop his cameras. He has this uncanny knock of finding the spot which will make the film most interesting. Even leaving out that pretty much every scene starts in medias res, the placement of our point of view forces us to spend just a few seconds quickly searching the screen in an attempt to ascertain where we are and what's happening. It keeps the audience on its toes and forces us to watch the movie more actively, something rarely seen in most American cinema. Add to this that he doesn't pull any punches with dialogue and you get a situation in which the audience really has to pay attention and use their craniums. It's refreshing, it's interesting, and it's beauty incarnate.

Action: 3.5/5 scrapped cars (The fight scene between Bruce and the janitor is not the best in cinema history, but it's still pretty good).
Acting: 5/5 green ponchos (Are these even actors? Are they instead real people in a documentary? These questions would be difficult to answer if not for secondary evidence, such as Bruce Willis' other acting gigs).
Story: 4/5 comic books (Many might not appreciate the story, which is admittedly flawed, but it's delivered which such a matter-of-fact style that questioning it is not the usually response. It resolves its "What If" questions pretty well, which is far more than many SF movies can say).
Sound: 3/5 pools (The music is pretty decent in this movie. I didn't find it particularly notable, for good or for ill).
Visuals: 5/5 glass canes (The camera angles wowed me).

Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 4.5/5 paint canes (A deeply interesting, enthralling, and beautiful film, it's a shame more people haven't seen Unbreakable).


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