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Film Review: Unbreakable (2000)
June 9, 2017
A sombre, understated, and affecting retelling of the superhero origin story, Unbreakable stars Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a depressed security guard who, after surviving a fatal train crash, discovers that he has superpowers. The film also stars Robin Wright as David’s wife Audrey and Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah, David’s guide into the lore and morality of superhero-ism.
Director M. Night Shyamalan, known for his twist endings and uneven career, hits it out of the park with this film. By maintaining a serious tone, Unbreakable grounds its subject matter in the grittier real-world stakes of family drama and crime-based mysteries while also nodding towards more fanciful, archetypal, comic book story elements. Shyamalan beautifully inserts visual cues in the film that highlight those comic book elements—from long takes and mirrored reflections to primary colours and the persistent motif of water—which elevate the entire movie. The plot, although occasionally cliché, is handled deftly, touching upon only the necessary background details about David’s life from childhood (when he nearly drowned), to teenage years (the car crash he survived), to the early days of his marriage (leading to estrangement and dissatisfaction) to hint at his abilities and provide challenges for him to overcome as he slowly and fatefully becomes a superhero.
Willis is solidly cast in this film. David is in the midst of an existential crisis at the beginning of the story, having been estranged from Audrey for some time and burdened with mediocrity since his high school, star-footballer days. Sad, pathetic, and detached from his family, David is nevertheless someone who the viewer can pity and feel empathy for. Jackson as Elijah, aka Mr. Glass because of his delicate bones, is also excellent. As a geeky invalid, Elijah is a source of energy for the story, pushing David to realize his potential and getting into dangerous situations by virtue of being very breakable.
As a standalone film, Unbreakable is a welcome palate cleanser for those suffering from a glut of hollow, loud, overstuffed Marvel tentpoles of the current decade and a reminder of how simplicity can be very effective in storytelling. (Check out a great analysis of the film by Must See Films here as well!)