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Year of release

Directed by
M. Night Shyamalan

Written by
M. Night Shyamalan

Bruce Willis
Samuel L. Jackson
Robin Wright Penn
Spencer Treat Clark



Plot – A train derails in Philadelphia. 131 people die. One man lives. And he doesn't even have a scratch on him. That man is David Dunn (Willis); a security guard and seemingly normal individual. Trying to understand how exactly he survived he is given a possible answer from Elijah Price (Jackson); a comic book enthusiast and art gallery owner specialising in comic book art. Born with a rare disease that makes his bones incredibly brittle and fragile, and earned him the nickname of Mr Glass, Elijah purposes that there must be someone at the opposite scale from him; a man stronger than everyone else, a man who cannot be hurt, a man who is unbreakable. Initially dismissing his suggestion as being ridiculous, David's way of thinking begins to change when more and more of the things Elijah says prove to be true - David has never been sick or ill in his life, he discovers that he possesses greater strength than average and that he has a special intuition which allows him to pinpoint people who have done wrong. Could David Dunn really be a true-life superhero?

It's a pretty much accepted fact that it was X-Men, released in 2000, which kick-started the revival of superhero flicks which has continued to this day. However I think that Unbreakable, released just a few months later, also deserves a slice of the credit for creating a one-two punch that brought the genre back into vogue following the disastrous reception that met Batman & Robin. After all what is this but a classic superhero origin tale, complete with various tropes of the medium. The film gives to him a backstory, powers, a weakness, a nemesis and even a costume of a sort in the form of a windbreaker/raincoat which turns him into your classic caped crusader.. And as a nice little touch he even has an alliterative name (David Dunn) in line with many of the real life identities of comic heroes - Reed Richards, Matt Murdoch, Bruce Banner, Peter Parker etc.

It's a surprisingly offbeat film for what could very easily have taken the route of being a big blockbuster. It's certainly a film in no great rush to reveal its secrets, but its slow pace allows the film to build a terrific atmosphere; it's tense, suspenseful, eerie and wonderfully moody. It may not be as flashy or attention-grabbing as the likes of The Sixth Sense or Signs but I believe it to be Shyamalan's most intelligent and mature film that he has so far delivered. Along the way the film drops several hints about what is to come in terms of its surprise ending. Elijah's mother gives him a comic book which apparently has a 'surprise ending', while throughout Elijah talks about himself and David being at opposite ends of the spectrum. Shyamalan's penchant for twists may now come in more for ridicule than praise, but I find the twist in this one very interesting, very satisfying and one that certainly holds up to repeat viewings.

I love the direction and visual design of the film, completely immersed in the world of comic books. It's very smartly done. Throughout the film there are examples of shots that feel uncommon for the medium, the camera angles and framing make them more reminiscent of the panels found in comic books. I could constantly have paused the film and the image on screen would seem like it had been lifted straight out of the pages of the latest offering from Marvel or DC. It's not the only trick used to mimic the tone of that world. Colour schemes are used throughout to differentiate between the characters. David's colour is green, while Elijah's is purple. This is reflected in numerous objects such as items of clothing and personal effects, and in the design features of their homes. Colour is also used to highlight the 'villains' he sees in his visions at the train station, making them jump out from the rest of the world. And the first villain that David tackles wears a bright orange jumpsuit, about as close to an identifiable costume as you could possibly get in the real world. Oh and there is also a lovely glass motif spread over the course of the film in relation to Elijah; alongside the obvious factor of his glass walking cane the character's image is frequently caught in reflective surfaces. And in terms specifically relating to the direction, the film is peppered with numerous fine examples of Shyamalan's eye for great shots, but the absolute epitome as far as I am concerned would be David's showdown with the man in orange. From the Orange Man appearing out of the curtains to the underwater horror, culminating in a terrific and brutal fight scene its a beautifully conceived sequence. Oh and the music that accompanies it is tremendous.

I've never quite understood the praise that Christopher Nolan receives for making his 'realistic' Batman films. No matter how grounded he tries to make them when you boil it all down what you still basically have is a guy dressing as a bat, battling guys dressed as clowns and scarecrows, and doing so in a car that can fly across rooftops. If you want a 'realistic' take on the superhero mythology then this is the film for you. It takes the classic superhero template and sets it against a real world environment. Basically its a retelling of the Superman mythos, but with the tremendous premise of 'what if Superman didn't know that he was Superman?” I also love the idea Elijah holds that comic books are actually the latest way of recording mythology, that they are merely exaggerated stories based on fact.

Film Trivia – The original script was actually a much more expansive story, in fact the completed film only covered the first third of that original script. M Night Shyamalan apparently felt no connection with the other two thirds of the story so discarded them, deciding to tackle only the origin part of the story.
In the lead role, Bruce Willis gives a very quiet and restrained performance; in fact it almost seems like he is sleep-walking through the film for spells of it. But it works for the character. There is a real sense of sadness and loneliness that he gives to the character, fitting for a man who appears to be a bit of a lost soul. He is haunted by the knowledge that something isn't right in his life, but is unable to fathom what exactly it is. It is a much more subtle showing than we have become accustomed to over his career; usually he has to do a lot of shouting just to be heard above all the explosions that are typically going off all around him. David Dunn is a very flawed hero, indeed he's pretty much the complete opposite of the classic superhero archetype. He seems completely dissatisfied with his life but has no idea how to fix it, he keeps his family at a distance but doesn't know why. Willis conveys this excellently in occasionally heartbreaking fashion.

As the counterpart to David, I find the character of Elijah to be immensely fascinating. He's a very tragic and sympathetic character who has suffered a life of pain and fear, and who found a refuge in the escapist world of comic books. And yet within the pages of these superhero tales he finds much more meaning than your normal reader. He is such a fragile, at-risk individual that he theorises there must be someone at the opposite end of the scale to him; someone to protect the vulnerable and damaged people like him. So he goes on a quest to find such an individual, and when he does it provides a purpose to his life. It gives a meaning to why he was cursed with such a traumatic condition. When he learns the truth he tells David that “now that we know who you are...I know who I am.” Being born this way was not just a cruel twist of fate, it made him an instigator in a cosmic, universal plan; to find and give birth to a hero. It's a concept I've always been very intrigued by; that sort of yin and yang balancing act. In this case that good cannot exist without evil, and that evil cannot exist without good.

And fulfilling the role we have Samuel L Jackson; and well, Samuel L is Samuel L Jackson! It's a style of performance we've seen from the man many times before, with numerous moments feeling reminiscent of a past outing for him. For example, early on in the film he berates a man who is trying to buy a piece of comic book art for his four year old child. He asks, “Do you see any toys in here? Do you see a slender plastic tag clipped to my shirt with my name printed on it? Do you see a little Asian child with a blank expression on his face sitting outside on a mechanical helicopter that shakes when you put quarters in it?” It really does feel like Shyamalan stumbled across some deleted footage from Pulp Fiction, as the words seem like they are coming right out of the mouth of Jules when he confronts Frank Whaley's character in the film - “What does Marcellus Wallace look like?!” He fits the character to a tee, perfectly inhabiting the eccentric and unique aspect of the character he has been handed. I also have to give great credit to Spencer Treat Clark, who portrays Willis' son, Joseph. It's one of the most impressive and underplayed performances that I can think of from a child actor. He wonderfully portrays that feeling that all children have when they're young, that their parents are invulnerable and better than everyone else. We want to believe they are super; so when Elijah tells him a story that may in fact prove it, it breeds a desperation in him for it to be true.

Oh and I couldn't possibly end this review without mentioning the fantastic score provided to the film by James Newton Howard.

Conclusion - It's actually quite hard now to remember just how hot M. Night Shyamalan was back in the late 90s/early 00s. With The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs he had started his career off with three critical and commercial hits. Of the three, this is my favourite, At the time of its release there were rumours abounding that Unbreakable was just the first piece in a potential trilogy. While the promised sequel(s) never materialised, I certainly hope that M. Night can find his feet and once again deliver a film of this quality some day. He may have become a favourite whipping boy for many, but I certainly feel he has shown that he has a creative mind and no small amount of talent; culminating in this film, his personal masterpiece.