”Unbreakable”’s director predicts his own greatness too soon
You need a reasonable amount of hubris to survive in Hollywood. After all, if you don’t act like you’ve got a big swinging flick, no one will let you make a movie. Yet there’s a difference between exhibiting healthy self confidence and supernova sized arrogance. And in promoting his new movie, ”Unbreakable” – about a man (Bruce Willis) who discovers he can’t be injured – ”The Sixth Sense”’s writer/ director M. Night Shyamalan is so proud of his abilities that he risks making God say, ”Who does he think he is, Me?”
I haven’t seen ”Unbreakable,” and I have no idea whether it’s good or bad. But Shyamalan has no doubt it’s the greatest film ever; he did even before he finished it. In recent interviews, he’s said he was disappointed that ”Sixth Sense” finished as the 10th highest grossing film ever [with $294 million] because ”I wanted to get to nine so when ‘Unbreakable’ comes out, both films could be in [the top 10].” He’s also said he hopes that his Oscar snub last year will make people root for him this year, saying, ”See? We told you! He’s back again, and he made the best film again!”
Undoubtedly, Shyamalan has talent: Steven Spielberg has anointed him to write a fourth ”Indiana Jones” movie, and Spielberg’s not easily fooled. However, one must keep in mind that Shyamalan doesn’t have a canon of hits to compare ”Unbreakable” to: He’s only made two other films, and one of them – 1998’s forgettable ”Wide Awake” – didn’t exactly have George Lucas quaking in his spaceboots that ”Star Wars” would get bumped off the top grossers list. While it’s possible that ”Unbreakable” could be as good as or better than ”Sense,” there’s also the chance that it could be his ”Heaven’s Gate,” the disastrous follow up by the equally headstrong Michael Cimino to his first smash, ”The Deer Hunter.”
Of course, there’s precedent for Director as Cocky Bastard. ”Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” Peter Biskind’s book on the directors of the 1970s, is chock full of post hit arrogance, with Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and William Friedkin all convinced of their invincibility after ”Jaws,” ”The Godfather,” and ”The French Connection,” respectively. That’s the kind of braying self confidence that makes observers pray for comeuppance – and those three got it with ”1941,” ”One From the Heart,” and ”Sorcerer,” respectively.
Now as much as people like to say all journalists are bitter, bitter people, I’m perfectly happy to cheer somebody’s success, as long as I feel they’re human, not Egotron 2000s. These days, when Martin Scorsese – someone with a full list of masterpieces – comes out with a new film, he usually says something to the effect that he HOPES people like it, not that he ASSUMES they will. Quentin Tarantino, when he delivered ”Jackie Brown,” never said that it was destined to dwarf ”Pulp Fiction.” (Granted, he said everything else, but there’s a difference between wanting someone to shut up because they’re arrogant and wanting someone to shut up because they just won’t shut up.) This kind of attitude makes the difference between me walking into a movie and saying, ”I can’t wait to see what this director will do next” and ”Oh, so it’s a masterpiece? Prove it, camera boy!” That being said, I will be seeing ”Unbreakable.” And I hope Shyamalan can prove it’s a masterpiece. If I like it, I’ll agree he’s a great filmmaker. If not, I’ll send him a tape of Spielberg’s far from masterful ”Always.” That’ll teach him.