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January 26, 2011

2

Unbreakable

by Franz Patrick


Unbreakable (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) was on a train from New York to Philadelphia that suddenly derailed. Everyone on the train passed away except for him; in fact, he walked away from the wreckage without a scratch. This strange phenomenon caught the eye of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a man born with osteogenesis imperfecta–since his body lacked an essential protein, his bones were very low in density and therefore easy broken. Elijah had a passion for comic books and he was convinced that David was a superhero in the making. Was Elijah a madman who became embittered from his experiences as a child or was he a friend that could help David realize his true potential? M. Night Shyamalan did a fantastic job blurring the line between science fiction and realism by establishing a heavy but malleable solemn mood. I thought it was great in building the tension as we were given information that could lead to the conclusion that David might be special. The film could simply have been about a man coming to terms with his “gift” (if he did indeed has one) but it took the more introspective path and it became a story about a family trying to stay together. David and his wife (Robin Wright) were on the verge of divorce due to reasons undisclosed and his son (Spencer Treat Clark) became fixated with the idea that his dad was special in order to deal with the fear of his father being plucked away from his life. Shyamalan’s talent in telling a compelling story was always at the forefront. Even though I did not know the truth about David’s identity, I cared about him because I was as confused as he was. “Unbreakable” was highly successful in building an inordinary experience from ordinary elements. I loved the way the director gave us information that was open to interpretation but not so abstract that it became frustrating or even insular. I also enjoyed the awkward camera angles because it challenged our perspectives visually and intellectually. And in a way, the film was also about perspectives: do we believe that David is a superhero or just a man trying to get by? It was strangely moving and I thought it ended at just about the perfect moment. Most people have lost faith in Shyamalan’s talent in creating stories that are involving, honest, and creative but at the same time defying our greatest expectations. I’m not one of them because when I rewatch his films like “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” (or even “The Village” to some degree) I cannot help but notice the level of detail he puts into his work. What I think he needs is to step back, look at what made the aforementioned pictures work and tell a story he would love instead of what he thinks the public would love.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. mcarteratthemovies
    Jan 27 2011

    I think “Unbreakable” often gets overshadowed by “Sixth Sense” and Shyamalan’s more glaring (gigantic?) failures like “The Village” (which I admit had its high points) and “Devil.” But “Unbreakable” is my second-favorite Shyamalan film because the premise is just so cool, and the casting — Samuel L. Jackson as a supervillain in a wheelchair? HELL yeah! — is so good. The tone of the film is very distinct as well — it’s somber with a bit of dark humor and action and philosophy thrown in.

    Reply
    • Feb 1 2011

      I totally agree with you, especially about the casting. It’s difficult for me to image anyone else playing Elijah Price (well) other than Samuel L. Jackson. He infused just the right amount of menace and curiosity to his character.

      Reply

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