This is, to put it plainly, my current favorite film of all time.
Let me count the ways:
Cinematography. It’s experimental without being art kitschy. If there’s one thing that M. Night seems to get, it’s a good director of photography. The man knows how to frame a scene. A lot of that, I assume, is just like writing a book. Practice. And M. Night, judging from the early age at which he started making films, has a lot of practice. There are a number of angles in this film that just stick with you. The scene in the train from the perspective of the child. The scene from above the weights, giving the audience weight on the main character. The scene in the rapist’s home where you see the rapist suddenly appear. Willis in frame in his Security Outfit, as superhero as a superhero movie gets.
And that’s the argument, that’s why I love this film. It’s a comic book movie that you don’t know is a comic book movie until the last ten seconds, and at that point, it is simply incredible, with all the set-up. Writing books, it’s hard to clock me with a plot that takes me by surprise. This did. People complain that it’s a repeat of the Sixth Sense. It is, in terms of surprise. I don’t care. I like it. He can make a hundred as far as I’m concerned…like Kevin Smith. He does one thing incredibly, sticking to it is wise.
The acting. This is Willis’ finest moment, as far as I’m concerned. He’s helpless, but incredibly strong on the inside. Robin Wright Penn plays the quintessential hurting woman, but she manages not to make it bitchy, as it so often comes off. And the boy, the boy is just incredible for one so young. And Samuel L. Jackson? Well, let me put it this way. He shows you how an evil man can be almost good. I’d choose him for Lex Luthor, myself, if it made character sense. He’s pitiable, in that he can’t help what he is, but he’s also just evil, pure evil, killing thousands in an attempt to do good. And you can see that he’s done it, and would do it again, in his eyes, all in some twisted attempt to do good
The story. A simple baiting thriller, we’ve seen it a hundred times, but with the added benefit that you don’t know what’s going to happen after the first thirty seconds. You go into act five not knowing who will live, who will die, and who the villain is. This is incredibly hard to achieve with me. This film does it.
This film does the quintessential trifecta. It makes me laugh. It makes me cry. And it changed my life.
If you want a good comic movie, if you want a good suspense movie, if you want a good movie-movie, watch Unbreakable, the finest work on celluloid.