My clearest memory of Unbreakable from when it first came out was storming out of the theatre at what seemed like a cheap ending — surprise twists evidently being Shyamalan’s schtick since hitting the big time with The Sixth Sense. I had forgotten that up until that point he is a masterful director, crafting each scene in a slow, stately style that rewards every moment you spend savoring his shots. The weight room scene can stand as an object-lesson of his genius. Its tension builds, subtly but powerfully. Camera work is innovative but not obtrusive. The whole scene is humorous in a way that’s so understated you almost miss it.
And, perhaps because I knew it was coming, the ending didn’t bother me quite as much either. I don’t think unveiling Mr. Glass as the villain is cheap any more, though it is inelegant. I imagine he’s going for the same effect as in Sixth Sense, where the twist leaves you racing back through the movie mentally, but still rounds out the plot nicely. In Unbreakable, he gets the impact but misses the closure. We’re still left with too many questions about what the end revelation is going to do to David Dunn — will his family hold together? Will he actually continue on fighting evil?
I haven’t cried at a movie since watching E.T. when I was a kid. And I still haven’t — I don’t get very emotional at movies. Shyamalan’s the only guy in recent memory who has even managed to get me a little choked up. In Unbreakable it’s the moment when Dunn’s son reacts to seeing him nod from across the kitchen table, letting him that he’s the hero in the paper. (It’s a open question how much of my response was due to brilliant direction, and how much was due to the emotional vagaries of impending fatherhood.)
M. Night doesn’t make “pretty good” movies. He makes ambitious, amazing movies that have big flaws. One of these times, every piece is going to fall together for him, and he’s going to make a truly great movie and earn a place in film history. I’m looking forward to it.