Considered one of M. Night Shyamalan’s critically acclaimed movies, Unbreakable was released in 2000, and stars Bruce Willis as David, a man who is the sole survivor of a train derailing and Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah, a comic art aficionado who believes David possesses powers commonly depicted in Marvel and DC stories.
Unbreakable was marketed in a similar vein to The Sixth Sense, despite the two being completely different movies. This review will talk about what the movie does good, what it does bad, and why the marketing direction was a big mistake. There will be minimum spoilers.
This movie does suspense right. In fact, watching this movie was the closest I ever got to an “edge-of-your-seat” experience, and it happened quite frequently too, which showcases Shyamalan’s tremendous skill for pacing. The tense moments were spaced out evenly, giving viewers time to relax before the shit hit the fan again, and it can’t be stated how important and delicate tempo is for this type of film. I was about to have a heart attack in a scene where Samuel Jackson was simply walking down a flight of steps!
The second most remarkable thing was the story itself. This is, at heart, a superhero movie, except the protagonist doesn’t recognize or embrace his superpowers initially. That sounds like a tired plotline, but it works here, because the story sets up David’s character effectively, and his anguish and discontent is effectively portrayed on screen to make him sympathetic and understandable. Both of David’s and Elijah’s characters are engaging, interesting, and complex without being cheesy (well, except maybe the end).
Finally, this film wasn’t afraid to use experimental cinematography. The camerawork plays an active role in the storytelling, with peculiar movements and framing that succeeds in a passive-aggressive way of retaining our attention. Artsy without being pretentious, know what I mean?
Despite playing great characters, Willis and Jackson’s performances are flat and all too familiar. The way they play their characters has been seen in dozens of other movies, and it was a little tiring seeing them be the same character again, just coated with a different backstory.
As a plot point the relationship between David and his wife felt artificial and too try-hard, an obvious attempt at providing some complicated emotional issues for David. It doesn’t work because it’s inexplicable. Why did their marriage fall apart? We really don’t know. It seems like David’s own lethargy that killed the romance, and his reason for being morose is that his instinct is telling him to go out and save people but he can’t. However, this is nonsensical because David knows he has superpowers very early on, in a car accident during college. Why exactly did he feel the need to deny (and somehow forget) his abilities? There is no clear answer given here, and as a result a gaping plot hole is staring at us near the end of the film.
Which brings us to the ending. It sucks. I won’t reveal the plot point here, but it felt like it could’ve been presented better. The idea behind it is reasonable, but its delivered in one scene through a character’s long-winded speech, making the “plot twist” feel like an afterthought: “Oh wait, I’m M. Night Shyamalan, I almost forgot to put a plot twist in this film. There we go.” The film could’ve ended without it; even a happy ending where David accepts his new identity would’ve been good. But as is we are left with a fairly lame reveal that is ultimately inconsequential to all parties involved.
Suspense as a Genre
The thing about “the Hollywood do machine” is that it only cares about churning carbon copies. “If one thing made a lot of money, we must make a lot more like it in order to make even more money!” In this case, while Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense were completely unrelated, the marketing team decided it was a good idea to trick people into thinking the former was going to be like the latter. Just check out the trailer.
“Are you ready for the truth?” is taken so out of context that I suspect the marketing team must’ve consisted of freelancers from North Korea. It was like they wanted another “I see dead people” moment, which is insultingly disrespectful to Unbreakable itself.
None of this matters, of course. The movie came out in 2000, and the marketing team were simply being paid to do their job. But the point is that sometimes films can be good for a reason you didn’t expect, and thankfully this was the case with Unbreakable.
Watch it! It’s a good thriller, guaranteed to get your heart pumping and it does so with its own particular style. It’s not an in-your-face Dan Brown type of thriller, but more of a slow and crawling dread that hits its boiling points suddenly and unexpectedly. This is an experience that is quite rare for films in general, which is why Unbreakable is worth watching.
This has been a gamobo review. Thanks for reading.