Posted on 11/11/11 01:06 PM
I missed reviewing Unbreakable when I was going through superhero movies in chronological order, so I figured now would be the perfect time to review it. Unbreakable was M. Night Shyamalan's follow up to The Sixth Sense, and while it wasn't as critically or financially successful, it still fared pretty well in both regards, and it's not hard to see why.
The film starts off with the birth of Elijah Price. It is a joyful moment for everyone, until the doctor horrifyingly discovers that he has a disease that makes his bones incredibly fragile. Fast forward to the present day, and David Dunn is returning home on a train, which ends up crashing, killing everyone on board except David who comes out completely unharmed. Confused as to how this happened, David finds a note on his car a few days after the crash, leading him to Elijah, who has spent his entire life collecting comic books as a way of distracting him from his physical problems and now owns a store that deals with rare comic book art pieces. Elijah believes that comic books characters are exaggerated versions of real people and that if there is someone as weak as him, then there must be those who are on the opposite end of the spectrum. He believes David is one of those people. Although his son likes the idea, David at first believes this is just an attempt to con him, and is all too happy to return back to his usual life, especially now that things are going well with his wife after the accident. However, he begins to notice strange stuff about his life that he never noticed before and with the help of Elijah begins to solve the riddles of his past, while discovering what he can do in light of these revelations.
Unbreakable is a superhero movie, but it's different from most. It's much more of a drama than anything else. There are no guys in capes and costumes, no big action sequences, no plots involving the destruction of a city. Instead, it's a small film dealing with a guy discovering what he is and his relationship with those closest to him. This isn't a surprise, as M. Night Shyamalan is not the type of director known for huge spectacle, but rather relies on mood to carry his films and unlike so many of his later films, this one has a story that allows him to excel on that.
This film is incredibly well told. Despite its slow pace, I was more absorbed in it than a lot of big budget action movies. The scenes involving David discovering what he's capable of are extremely well done (such as the weightlifting scene) while I loved the mystery of David Dunn's past and all the twists and turns the film takes in explaining it.
In a drama like this, the acting is particularly important, and the cast doesn't disappoint. Watching this film and the Sixth Sense, it's almost hard to believe that Bruce Willis typically stars in big, dumb, over the top action movies, given how quiet and subtle his performance is in this movie. He also has strong chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, who is brilliant (as always) as the thoughtful and observant Elijah Price, as well as with Spencer Treat Clark, who portrays his son Joseph (given that the previous kid star in an M. Night Shyamalan film was Haley Joel Osment, he had some pretty big shoes to fill, and yet he does really well all things considered)
The climax, meanwhile, is another strong point of the film. M. Night Shyamalan puts his skills at creating a strong atmosphere to good use here, with his long slow shots building a sense of dread that is much effective tension wise than simply blowing stuff up. Also, like all Shyamalan films, Unbreakable has a great score, curtsey of James Newton Howard (who is to M. Night Shyamalan what Danny Elfman is to Tim Burton or John Williams is to Steven Spielberg)
On the down side of things, there's the final twist that occurs at the end. It felt like Shyamalan was trying too hard to give off a similar ending to Sixth Sense, yet while the twist in The Sixth Sense made me want to watch the film all over once again just to pick up the clues, the twist in Unbreakable actually hurt the film for me. Granted (spoilers) it is a nice reference to the hero/villain relationships that are found in most comic book movies, but at the same time it really hurts the character of Elijah and the relationship the film built between him and David; not to mention it doesn't make much sense either (if Elijah believed himself to be the villain, then why did he spend so much time and effort trying to find the hero, who would most likely end up putting him in jail?) Not only that, but even if I were to accept the twist, it still wouldn't give me the incentive to go back and watch the film and pick up the clues leading to it like the Sixth Sense, since there are so few clues so to speak of. Also, at times the comic books elements of the story felt at odds with the rest of the film, even though they much more toned down than usual.
Overall, Unbreakable is a superbly acted, deeply moving, well told and well shot origin film that succeeds despite a weak last minute twist. There was talk not too long ago of possibilities for a sequel, and while I wouldn't mind that (provided it's more along the lines of Shymalan's earlier films and not his more recent ones) I'm not anxious for it either, as Unbreakable is a complete story as it is.