“Unbreakable” Movie Review

Every single film snob out there who posits that superhero movies could never take place in the “real world” clearly weren’t around for the pre-Marvel Studios boom. I’m not just talking about The Dark Knight (Which turns 10 years old this month) but something that was never even based on an existing comic book. This superhero psychological thriller- written, co-produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan -was released on November 22nd, 2000. With a relatively small budget of $75 million, the film managed to gross over $248 million at the worldwide box office. It’s somewhat disappointing box office intake, as well as the polite reaction from critics and audiences, were partially blamed on Touchstone Pictures’ marketing campaign. It has since garnered a huge cult following, as well as a recently confirmed sequel due out in 2019. Following the massive, unexpected success of his previous film The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan outlined the film’s screenplay and structure like that of a comic book. With the two lead characters written in mind for the actors portraying them, he decided to turn it into a straight-up hero/villain origin story. The spec script ended up being sold to Disney for $5 million, a record deal at the time, who in turn helped the director form his own production company. Bruce Willis stars as David Dunn, a stadium security guard who is struggling to salvage his marriage and life in Philadelphia. On a train home from a job interview in New York City, the Eastrail 177 crashes- but Dunn emerges the only survivor, without a single broken bone or injury sustained. Getting word of this “miracle,” comic book art gallery owner Elijah Price, played by Samuel L. Jackson, contacts Dunn and approaches him with the idea that he might actually be a superhero. Despite being stricken with Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, which makes all of his bones brittle, Price keeps a watchful eye over Dunn’s actions as they both begin to realize their place in the world. How on earth did M. Night Shyamalan go from being proclaimed “the next Spielberg” to becoming the laughing stock of Hollywood? I’ve made no secret about my hatred for The Last Airbender and After Earth, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy his earlier films. For the longest time, I had been dying to see his take on the superhero genre, especially since it came right before the genre had exploded. And now, with Split out and Glass officially coming to theaters next January, I figured now would be as good a time as any to check out Unbreakable. And it is by far my favorite Shyamalan picture. Moreover, it’s a wonderfully original take on the superhero origin story. The marketing campaign sold it as the next supernatural thriller from the man behind “I see dead people.” When in reality, this really is, as director Quentin Tarantino put it, a story in which Superman hypothetically lived on Earth without knowing his full abilities. In fact, in many ways, the film does a better job at deepening the purpose and artistry of comic books than most movies adapted from the illustrated pages. As Elijah Price says, “I believe comic books are a form of history that someone, somewhere felt or experienced. Then, of course, those experiences and history got chewed up by the commercial machine, got jazzed up, made a titillating cartoon for the sale rack.” The opening text, alone, perfectly shows why comics are such a big and important cornerstone in modern pop culture. That, combined with the surprisingly serious tone, makes it feel as though it takes place in a world that you can reach out and touch. It’s easy to see why the main characters were written in mind for the leads because they pull it off so easily. Despite his list of cool roles over his career, I’m fairly positive that this is Bruce Willis’ best performance yet. Like his work in The Sixth Sense, he’s so subtle and quiet for much of the movie, yet you can feel a history of emotional pain. That he never really achieved something truly amazing in his life, that his marriage to the woman he loves is about to fall apart, that he’s disconnected from his own son. Opposite him, Samuel L. Jackson is equally subdued but no less excellent as Elijah Price. As obsessive as he is calculating, his occasional dips into being over the top are perfectly fit for that of a supervillain, especially with his self-given nickname Mr. Glass. Other performers like Robin Wright and Spencer Treat Clark as Dunn’s family, and Charlayne Woodard as Elijah’s concerned mother add something unique to the experience. Meanwhile, Shyamalan shows us that he really does have a wonderful eye for filmmaking techniques. Shot by Eduardo Serra, primarily working with European auteurs, the cinematography is extremely precise and controlled. Most scenes are shown on steady single long takes, which arguably gives the cast more room to breathe. The shot composition is arranged in such a unique way that it actually emulates a real comic book panel. The use of color by editor Dylan Tichenor further illustrates this by assigning certain hues to characters or situations. For example, whereas David Dunn’s livelihood is dominated by shades of green, Mr. Glass is primarily shown in purple. And in certain sequences, a character’s clothes will be highlighted brightly, in contrast to the dreary palette of the real world. For fans of comics, this is certain to be a delightful round of catching homages, especially as Elijah explains specific artistic aspects of the medium. James Newton Howard, the director’s frequent collaborator, composes and conducts one of the best instrumental scores for a superhero film. The main theme song is very singular and unconventional, utilizing an electronic drum kit mixed with different sounds and strings, building up a huge crescendo. Other tracks use simplistic instruments such as minimal trumpets and rousing percussion tools like timpanis and piano. While most of them are made to create a sort of misterioso tone- appropriate as the main hero discovers his own powers -others feel so inspirational and weeping that they feel like they belong in a classic Hollywood epic. And the best part is that they’re all perfectly timed with each moment; the director reportedly showed Howard the storyboards in order to establish what he wanted. And it really shows. Also, I’m really surprised by the generally negative response to this film’s ending. Shyamalan is a director who is famous (Or perhaps infamous) for including a twist in the final scene that shakes up the plot. In his later films, there is justification for this criticism as it felt as though he was just throwing it in for its own sake. I can moderately understand that, as it’s partially wrapped up through epilogue text. I won’t spoil the twist ending in this film, but as with The Sixth Sense, the ending here not only makes perfect sense to me, it also improves a lot with repeat viewings. I’ve watched this film twice within 24 hours, and it only gets better. Unbreakable is a truly inspirational and realistic take on an often disrespected medium. Whatever you may think of his later films, there’s almost no denying that this is M. Night Shyamalan’s true masterpiece. What really makes the film special, aside from everything said above, is that it makes you believe that you, too, might be a superhero. That you have the capacity within to do good work and help people who need it. And for that, I can safely count it as one of the best, and most original, superhero films ever put to the silver screen.

Related image

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s