Happy New Year, everybody! Hope everyone had a great one! Bonus brownie points if you stayed safe. Hope everyone’s geared up for the next 365 days and those New Years Resolutions that you’ll never commit to. Unless… you’re serious about that stuff, then go git ‘em, tiger! Show those resolutions who’s boss!
In commemoration of the upcoming sequel, GLASS (2019), I’m taking a trip down memory lane to see the movie that started it all. Furthermore, for my review of the second installment, click the following link: SPLIT (2017).
Man, I know that Shyamalan has had something of a resurgence in his career over the last four years, but it’s still kind of odd to remember that he was once called one of the next great directors of our generation. Then he hit his downward spiral and was the butt of so many jokes and was ridiculed for years. Not that I’m not happy for the guy, but what a roller-coaster of a career. But the start of this roller-coaster was actually a pretty sweet ride and UNBREAKABLE is often debated to be his last great film. Either that, or SIGNS, but that’s a review for another time, if ever. So let’s see how this unconventional superhero movie holds up.
Cast: Bruce Willis (DEATH WISH , THE EXPENDABLES  and 2 , DIE HARD , 2 , WITH A VENGEANCE , LIVE FREE , CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE , and upcoming films MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN  and CORNERMAN ), Samuel L. Jackson (LIFE ITSELF , KONG , MISS PEREGRINE , AVENGERS  and ULTRON , CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER  and WINTER SOLDIER , IRON MAN  and 2 , SHAFT , and upcoming films CAPTAIN MARVEL  and SHAFT ), Robin Wright (BLADE RUNNER 2049 , EVEREST , and the upcoming WONDER WOMAN 1984 ), Spencer Treat Clark (THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT  and GLADIATOR ), and Charlayne Woodard (2 episodes of TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES [2008 – 2009]).
Director/Writer: M. Night Shyamalan (THE VISIT )
Composer: James Newton Howard (FANTASTIC BEASTS 2 , DETROIT , HUNTSMAN 2 , CONCUSSION , and DARK KNIGHT )
Cinematographer: Eduardo Serra (BLOOD DIAMOND )
Editor: Dylan Tichenor (PHANTOM THREAD )
This is my honest opinion of: UNBREAKABLE
Set in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1961, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) was born with Type 1 osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as the brittle bones disease, and grew up to be a particularly die-hard comic book admirer. In the present day, another Philly native, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is on the Eastrail 177 train, which derails, crashes, and everyone aboard is killed… except for him. Not a broken bone, not even a paper cut. Upon hearing about this miraculous survival, Elijah extends an invitation to David to talk to him about a theory that he’s developed. Because of his disease, he believes that he represents one extreme of a spectrum, someone who is extremely frail, and that someone else in the world is unbreakable. He believes David is that person, who has never known an injury or ever been sick. Though David dismisses it as a scam from a crazy person, David soon starts to question its validity as he begins to take a bigger notice to his seeming invulnerability and limitless strength.
You know what? This movie holds up quite well. It’s not great, but compared to how Shyamalan’s work gets later on down the road, this might as well be a masterpiece.
One of the first things I noticed about the movie was the cinematography. That is both a good and a bad thing. I’ll get the negative aspects about it later, but there are some pretty decent shots. In the beginning on the train where we meet David, the camera is placed simply in front of the seat in front of David, and with little more than left and right pans, we learn a lot about his character. He’s married, seemingly in an unhappy marriage, and despite being a soft-spoken man, he’s quite charming and funny in his own right. So the acting is pretty good… which will also have to be addressed later. Also, after the accident, in a long tracking shot when David is released from the hospital to reunite with his wife Audrey (Robin Wright) and young son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), there’s an awkward hug between the married couple and almost as quickly as they hold hands, they let go almost too naturally. So whatever marital problems that were being hinted at before, it’s clearly not one-sided and that both parents are aware of it. There’s plenty of shots like this littered throughout the film and deserve to be admired for what they are.
As far as acting is concerned, Samuel L. Jackson is phenomenal and naturally steals the show. He doesn’t view comics as a simple form of entertainment for children. He feels that they’re an ancient form of passing down knowledge on par with hieroglyphics. What I love about his performance is just how straight he sells it. The words he says in of themselves are disgustingly pretentious, but the way he says his lines, so soft and convicted that he really sounds like he believes the nonsense that he’s spewing with every fiber of his being. While Jackson has had a long career of playing a bad-ass who has his fair share of one-liners, I might go as far as to say that this might be one of his best performances that I’ve ever seen to date. You know what? Screw it, this might be the best performance I’ve ever seen him give to date. I said it and I ain’t taking it back until I see a better one. Sure, fine, say what you want about PULP FICTION, but I didn’t see that as a nuanced performance. This was. And for as silly as the script is on the surface, it takes truly remarkable talent to not simply push past it, but to make it sound legit. I would never have figured that out of Jackson.
I also really appreciate how David’s powers work. There’s a traditional sense to his design, in that he has a simple weakness. Water. He also has this secondary power where he can sense what wrong-doing people have done. He knows when someone is carrying a gun, for example. But when he starts to embrace his powers, now he can see what they’ve done. He’ll see a woman get drugged, another woman stealing from a jewelry store, and the climactic sociopath who holds a family hostage in their own home. All of this was pretty freakin’ sweet.
And let’s give some credit where credit is due, Shyamalan had some pretty damn good scenes in this movie. The scene where Elijah is chasing the man with the gun at the baseball stadium and the simple act of going down a flight of stairs? Amazingly suspenseful. Had me at the edge of my seat like crazy. Or that scene with Joseph who wants to prove his father’s invulnerability by shooting him? An equally intense and great scene. Man, what happened to Shyamalan. He had such great potential and then just trashed himself for no good apparent reason. It’s heartbreaking to see where he would eventually end up.
However, my compliments have to end somewhere for this movie.
Well, I promised to talk about the other half of the cinematography, so lets get cracking. The truth is, for every amazing shot that this has, there’s about five more bad ones that are right around the corner. For whatever God-given reason, Shyamalan really liked filming his actors far away and focusing on… well, rather nothing. Or nothing interesting. A slowly dying patient, or… no, almost nothing. The scene where David and Elijah talk for the first time, there’s a good chunk of the conversation in the end where the camera is just hanging overhead focusing on nothing of any real importance. And let’s not forget the sheer amount of far shots for no reason. Shyamalan, for all his good scenes in the movie, more than a few are rendered almost dull due to the wrong thing being focused on.
That’s another thing that I really hated. Shyamalan barely shows the actors’ expressions. Specifically, Willis’. Jackson sure gets his pretty mug focused on a bit, which is why he stands out in a positive way so much, but Willis gets really shafted in a lot of scenes. He’s almost always has his back to the camera, not in focus, kept in the dark, it’s absolutely maddening. Maybe that’s just the theater kid in me talking, but it’s true. What kind of director doesn’t want to see their actor’s face? Does Shyamalan low-key think that Willis isn’t a good actor? This is the second time he’s worked with him, so I honest to God don’t really get this.
And there’s one thing that I never quite understood about Elijah. He thinks that he is one side of the spectrum of being too brittle and that David is the other side of said spectrum who can’t get hurt. Except… he’s not unique, and he says this himself. He’s got Type 1 of his brittle bones disease, but there’s also Type 2, 3, and 4, which doesn’t last long. So… even on his own spectrum, he’s not even all that special. But whatever the case is, his position on that spectrum is a result of a genetic disorder. Not something supernatural. So… why doesn’t he factor that into getting to know David? Shouldn’t he be looking for someone with an “opposite” condition to his disease where someone has incredibly dense bones and has an unnaturally strong immune system? It just seems like a leap in logic to assume “superheroes are real” when he himself is not. Really, it’s sheer luck that he happened to be right about David.
Overall, definitely an imperfect film and not Shyamalan’s best work. Still, and I hate that I’m constantly saying this, this is actually pretty good compared to his later work. There is some great cinematography, Jackson as Elijah is phenomenal, and there is a wonderful atmosphere to the movie that constantly keeps you guessing and intrigued to see where it’ll go. With that said, Elijah’s logic makes little sense, and when the cinematography isn’t good, it’s downright bothersome, almost ruining entire scenes. Still, while there are blemishes, it’s still a good enough watch. Hell, give me this over LAST AIRBENDER any day.
My honest rating for UNBREAKABLE: a strong 3/5