- Written, Produced, and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
- November 21, 2000 (US)
A man who survived a train crash unharmed comes to believe that he might have superhuman abilities and attracts the attention of a disabled man.
Unbreakable is a very different and very effective superhero film. It takes a decidedly more realistic approach to the characters and the comic book origin. It keeps the with abilities better than what a normal person could have but not so overpowered that they border on gods. This story is what happens when an ordinary person finds themselves with extraordinary abilities.
This is a very comic book film, but they dial things back. They engage in much of what you would find the origin story not only in the crafting of the hero but in the crafting of the villain along with the structure of the narrative. The hero and villain are opposites not only in attitude but also in what they are.
Unbreakable is a superhero origin story without the grandiose finale. And as much as it is an origin story of the hero it is also the origin story of the villain as both are connected. Samuel Jackson as Elijah Price/Mr. Glass is just fantastic. He is one of the great actors of our time and here he plays an individual with a rare condition that leaves him with severely brittle bones. The bitter villain driven by anger.
Elijah is not some moustache twirling character but rather a man obsessed with not just proving a theory he has but giving the problems of his life meaning. There must be a reason for why he has his affliction. It must be more than just because. He is looking for his opposite to give things meaning and it has sent him down a dangerous path.
There was a reason Bruce Willis became star and this showcases his talent. He was not a mind-blowing talent, but he had good chops. Here he plays David Dunn who is an average man with an average life. Unfortunately his marriage is in jeopardy for reasons that are not quite clear at the start of the film. We start with the impression that they’ve just grown apart but as it turns out it has more to do with him abandoning his dreams for a good reason.
In the context of the story superheroes as well as the general mythology of the world are telling essentially true stories though the details have been exaggerated and at points chewed up and spit out through the corporate media. Elijah has been spending his whole life trying to prove that he is at one end of the spectrum and there are others out there at the other.
Elijah is not a villain of great physical power but rather of great intellect. The mad genius. David is the man of great power who would rather not have it. He is stronger than most (as hinted at by his aborted football career) but is also able to sense those that are dangerous as implied by his current job as a security guard.
Unbreakable focuses on the characters and their journey. This is about their problems and need to overcome them as it is also about how to deal with David confronting his true nature. This is about the characters and not about their powers and how cool they can look in a battle scene or what kind of cool stuff those powers can do.
This is a carefully made film with stuff carefully laid out and unlike most comic book movies those elements are not shoved in your face. For example if this was your first time seeing Unbreakable and you were unaware of the films that come later in the series you would absolutely miss the reveal of David’s weakness when it happens. It is done so that viewer can get it but that you could also see how the person living it might miss it or explain it away.
And beyond being a superhero film it’s also about the characters finding meaning and purpose in their life. It’s about feeling powerless and perhaps not following your dreams when you really wanted to be something else but instead focused on something you felt was more important than that. David gave up his dreams for the woman he loved and while football may not have been his true purpose, not searching out his own path left something missing in his life.
Elijah has felt weak and powerless and has wanted to be something more. He has fantasized about being things being different and those improbable dreams have left him bitter and angry. Rather than dealing with how things are he has become upset over how they are not.
There are no corny jokes in Unbreakable. There is no goofy dialogue. This is a movie that takes itself and its material seriously. It is not directed with any over the top or heroics or over the top action or heroic camera shots or superhero landings. It is mature and that is a rarity in the superhero genre.
Unbreakable is a fantastic movie. It’s a character driven superhero story that presents things as if they were occurring in the real world. If you’ve never seen this or it’s been a while since you last checked it out it is most definitely worth watching. I highly recommend this!