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Unbreakable

A movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan

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Holding out for a hero

  • Apr 25, 2009
  • by
Rating:
+5
"Unbreakable" is the ultimate postmodern superhero movie: it looks at the comic book phenomenon from the outside (in the form of a character who grows up immersed in comics) while simultaneously giving us the origin story of a real-life superhero. This by itself would be reason to see the movie, but M. Night Shyamalan refuses to rely solely on the intrinsic interest of the plot to carry the movie. "Unbreakable" is a dark, lyrical cinematic masterpiece that transcends the limits of its genre and becomes a universal story of a man trying to find his place in the world.

David Dunn (played with subdued intensity by Bruce Willis, in one of his best performances) and Elijah Price (the ever reliable Samuel L. Jackson) could hardly be more different. David is a former athlete, a security guard with a failing relationship with his wife Audrey and son Joseph. He wakes up every morning with a sadness in his heart that he can't explain. Elijah Price is the only child of a single mother, born with a rare genetic disorder that makes his bones extremely fragile. Terrified by the outside world and its perils, he turns inward to comic books, becoming a connoisseur and collector of rare first editions, from which he also makes a living. He too feels incomplete; he is obsessed with the idea that, if his fragility places him at one end of a spectrum of a human abilities, there might be someone on the other end, someone unbreakable, "a hero placed here to protect us." When he learns that David was the only survivor of a horrific train crash, and that he survived without a scratch on him, he begins to suspect that he may have found his hero.

The plot thickens as David begins to notice some odd things about himself: he seems to be able to sense when people have less than benign intentions to the point of being able to see their misdeeds in his mind, and more importantly he cannot recall a single injury or illness, except a tragic football accident that ended his athletic career. During an improvised weight training session with his son he discovers that he can lift up to 375 pounds without strain, even though the most he had lifted up to that point was 250 pounds. As Elijah continues to investigate his background in an attempt to know for sure whether David is the one, both their lives become increasingly intertwined in unexpected, dangerous ways. Is David truly unbreakable, and if so was he put on Earth for a reason, and could that explain the aching emptiness he wakes up with every morning?

To reveal more of the plot would deprive viewers of one of the key pleasures of this marvelously crafted tale. What makes "Unbreakable" stand out from all the other superhero origin movies out there is its (comparative) realism and rich complexity of the characters. Though you might not know it from his more recent ventures ("Lady in the Water", "The Happening"), Shyamalan is a master storyteller, with full command of the tools of his trade. Characters are introduced deftly and suggestively. Surprises wait around every corner, but they are all integral to the plot and never feel gratuitous. From a generic standpoint, Shyamalan manages to honor the conventions of the superhero tale while giving them his own original twist (the weight lifting scene, for example, is a standard 'hero discovers his powers' moment, but it is executed with sly humor in the unlikely setting of a basement home gym). This is a superhero movie, alright, but unlike any other you have seen.

Storytelling does not exhaust Shyamalan's talents, however. The cinematography is mesmerizing, creating a palatte of dark blue and grey, suggestive of the emptiness in the main characters' lives but also the 'Twilight Zone' feel of being close to the uncanny. The world Shyamalan paints for us is the real world, but one in which surprises lurk in the shadows and things are not quite what they seem. The movie is chock-full of iconic frames, evocative of other comic books but again with Shyamalan's distinctive stamp. The music is alternately haunting and rapturous as it probes the depths of David's misery and also charts his path toward becoming a hero. These elements all come together perfectly in a confrontation that David has with a serial rapist in the home of one of his victims. It is unlike any other action scene, a triumphant testimony to the power of holding on (literally and metaphorically, as you will see).

On a metaphysical level the movie is not that complicated: there are evil people in the world from which we need protection. The one point of moral ambiguity is Elijah himself: is he simply David's alter ego, or is there more to him than meets the eye? And what is the ultimate price of David's discovery of his powers? Again, it would be churlish to give this away.

The bottom line is that on every level, this movie is an absolute delight. For aspiring filmmakers it is a masterclass in storytelling and directorial technique, while for fans of superhero movies and moviegoers in general it is an exciting, unconventional superhero origin story. Some may be put off by the slow, careful unfolding of the plot, but I can assure you there is plenty of suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat. If you only watch one superhero movie, this should be it.

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April 27, 2009
While I generally stay away from M Night Shyamalan movies (I had a bad experience with Lady in the Water), your take on Unbreakable is so interesting that now I want to see it!
May 01, 2009
Thanks! Then my review will have served its purpose :)
May 01, 2009
Look forward to more of your movie reviews!
May 01, 2009
Look forward to more of your movie reviews!
May 01, 2009
Look forward to more of your movie reviews!
 
1
More Unbreakable reviews
review by . January 26, 2010
What if everything you read in the comics were true? What if superheroes were real?...
Society for  almost a century now  has been enthralled and enchanted by the world of comics  you've read the harrowing tales of  Super-Man, you've traveled into the dark depths of Gotham City  with Bat-Man  and you've seen the darker side of heroism with Dare Devil, Ghost Rider, John Constantine, Iron Man  and even Spider-Man. But here's the real question what if those stories you've read were real? What if the tale of an invincible man or a man who could …
review by . April 25, 2010
With all the hype to this movie, I thought it was going to be a top-notch thriller. Instead I found a slow-paced movie that I kept waiting for something occur. Bruce Willis gives one of his sleepiest performances as a security guard, who has unbreakable bones and seems to be able to sense bad people.      Samuel L. Jackson is the opposite in that he was born with incredibly weak bones and goes through life constantly in and out of hospitals with fractures. His one solace in life …
Quick Tip by . October 19, 2010
Cool premise, very nicely worked out. I love the way he placed subtle hints in the story that led to the conclusion.
Quick Tip by . August 30, 2010
M Night Shyamalan's second movie has a great twist ending that when you look back upon what goes on, you'd be surprised that you didn't see it coming. Not bad but you can only see it once.
review by . April 24, 2009
With all the hype to this movie, I thought it was going to be a top-notch thriller. Instead I found a slow-paced movie that I kept waiting for something occur. Bruce Willis gives one of his sleepiest performances as a security guard, who has unbreakable bones and seems to be able to sense bad people.    Samuel L. Jackson is the opposite in that he was born with incredibly weak bones and goes through life constantly in and out of hospitals with fractures. His one solace in life …
review by . March 26, 2002
Pros: Samuel Jackson, the idea of the movie     Cons: Bruce Willis     The Bottom Line: for Willis fans only     This was a strange one, unless you absolutely love comics and super heroes. Actually, the concept was sort of unique, but coming off The Sixth Sense, you pretty much knew how this one was going to end.      David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is our local hero this time. A security guard at a college football stadium, …
review by . December 03, 2000
Pros: Good script; Bruce Willis was great     Cons: I hate Robin Wright Penn; annoying cinematography; the toddler that sat in front of me     No, the title of this review doesn't have anything to do with Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan's answer to his box office smash The Sixth Sense. It has to do with the four-year-old girl that the parents sitting in front of me and my date decided to bring to the movies with them. I'll get into that later. I just wanted …
review by . December 03, 2000
Pros: Good script; Bruce Willis was great     Cons: I hate Robin Wright Penn; annoying cinematography; the toddler that sat in front of me     No, the title of this review doesn't have anything to do with Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan's answer to his box office smash The Sixth Sense. It has to do with the four-year-old girl that the parents sitting in front of me and my date decided to bring to the movies with them. I'll get into that later. I just wanted …
review by . December 01, 2000
Pros: Good Cast.     Cons: bad ending.     Last year, Hollywood was abuzz with excitement over the little hyped film “The Sixth Day” that had become a huge hit, and had turned its young writer director M. Night Shyamalan into one of the hottest properties overnight. The film went on to break the 200 million mark, and entered the phrase “ I see dead people” into the American lexicon.    The only question left regarding the film, was how would the …
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J.D. Walters ()
Member Since: Apr 23, 2009
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This suspense thriller unfolds as the audience is introduced to David Dunn. Not only is he the sole survivor of a horrific train-crash that killed 131 people he doesn't have a scratch on him. Elijah Price is an obscure character who approaches Dunn with a seemingly far fetched theory behind it all. Written by Filmtwob <webmaster@filmfreak.co.za>

Security Guard David Dunn miraculously survives a catastrophic train crash outside Philadelphia. Not only is he the sole survivor out of 132 passengers, he also is completely unharmed. A little later, comic book specialist Elijah Price contacts him to confront David with an incredible theory: Elijah, who has been nicknamed "Mr. Glass" due to his more than fragile bones, thinks that David has got all which he himself lacks. The two of them "seem to be linked by a curve, but sitting on opposite ends". First, David does not believe the strange man, but every single thing he had said proves to be true: David has never ever been hurt or sick in his life, his physical strength is larger than normal and he has a skill which others don't. Slowly, David begins to discover the shocking truth behind Mr. Price's assumptions. But after all, David's fate is not only to find his real place in the world. It also is about proving Elijah's theory of his own existence. Written by Julian Reischl <julianreischl@mac.com>

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Details

Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: November 22, 2000
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 47min
First to Review
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