I fucking loved this.
With the highly-anticipated release of Glass (2019) just a couple of weeks away, I thought I’d return to the movie that inadvertently kicked off what has become known as The Eastrail 177 Trilogy (2000 – 2019). Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, this was my first time seeing Unbreakable (2000). Though I knew it was widely regarded as one of his best, I was wary. Can you blame me? I’ve grown up in an era where the director is unfortunately known for duds like The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013). I braced myself for impact. Now, after watching the movie… DAMN. I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was blown away! Clearly, I’m late to the party considering this movie is almost 20 years old, but now that I’m at the party? I’m that drunk guy requesting songs, slamming back shots, and refusing to leave. That’s my charming way of saying that I loved this movie and can’t wait to talk about it.
Unbreakable tells the story of David Dunn, a seemingly ordinary man who after emerging as the sole survivor of a horrific trainwreck, begins to question his extraordinary invulnerability. His suspicions are bolstered by Elijah Price, an eccentric art dealer who strongly believes David’s abilities are superhuman, and David himself is meant to become a hero. In addition to directing, Shyamalan also receives credit for writing and producing Unbreakable. I love when that happens. It’s like a seal of approval from the director that this is 100 per cent the movie they wanted to make. Knowing that there were no studio executives interfering and this is completely the director’s vision makes me enjoy the movie so much more. I also have to admire Shyamalan’s dedication to creating original stories. With the exception of The Last Airbender, all of his work is based on his own ideas. Yes, sometimes those ideas fail horribly, but I’m extremely supportive of anyone who takes creative risks and is willing to create something fresh and new, rather than remaking a famous ‘80s movie. Do you hear me, Hollywood? Cut that out.
You could easily classify Unbreakable as a superhero movie, and for the most part it is. However, it manages to go above and beyond others in the genre by utilizing familiar elements and tropes of superhero movies, then applying them to its true genre: Mystery / thriller. Unbreakable delivers genuine mystique and thrills but what it does best, is cultivate intrigue. It starts in the beginning, after the doctor informs David that he’s the sole survivor of the trainwreck, exiting the crash without any scratches or broken bones. You’re pulled into the story and kind of go, “whoa, crazy, I wonder what his deal is?” Then you’re drawn into the story even more as David slowly begins to realize that he’s never truly been sick or injured. THEN, the movie really has you tied around its little finger when David tries weightlifting and is inexplicably able to lift over 350 pounds! This movie is a roller-coaster ride and I loved every second of it.
Bruce Willis’ portrayal of David’s confusion and hesitation to accept the truth is captivating. While I felt the subplot of saving his failing marriage was unnecessary (hi, Robin Wright!), I did like that it grounded David. We’re repeatedly told how exceptional he is, so to see a more human side of him helps us relate to the character more. Physically, David can’t be harmed but mentally and emotionally, he is just as susceptible to pain as the rest of us. Bruce Willis is always fun to watch. Remember when he guest starred on Friends (1994 – 2004)? God, that was hilarious. The complete antithesis of the stoic David Dunn.
Speaking of antitheses, let’s talk about Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price. “The children call me ‘Mr. Glass.’” As Elijah lay in that hospital bed and repeated those words with a vacant stare, I got chills. I knew we as the audience were witnessing the birth of this movie’s antagonist. From the way he’s written, to the way Jackson executes the character, Mr. Glass is a great villain. He manages to be menacing, subtle, and unpredictable. At times you even side with him, like when he tragically falls down the stairs and breaks almost every bone in his body. This is a result of his Type 1 osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that renders bones extremely fragile, thus earning him the nickname, “Mr. Glass.” I can’t tell you how long it took me to put together the juxtaposition of David, the hero, being unbreakable, and Elijah, the villain, shattering like glass. It’s simple symmetry, but nonetheless a brilliant comparison.
A recurring argument that Elijah makes to David, that is both fascinating and convincing, is that what we know as “superpowers” are just crude exaggerations of extraordinarily heightened senses that certain individuals could possess. God, what a stunning and original take on the superhero genre. Now, I’m not some purist who loves to take the fun out of everything and insist that superhero movies are only good when they’re realistic. The truth is, I’ve had a lot of fun with superhero movies that are grounded, like The Dark Knight (2008), and are nonsensical, like Aquaman (2018). Sidenote, check out my review for Aquaman here. There’s room for all types of superhero movies. The fact of the matter is though, that the genre is terribly repetitive and would benefit greatly from more fresh takes like Unbreakable. Something out-of-the-box that audiences have never seen before. Oh my God, is that what Hancock (2008) was trying to do?
Excellent direction, stellar writing, and great pacing are a winning combination that solidify Unbreakable as a modern classic. Add in a cast who are each at the top of their game and a bone-chilling, if not somewhat predictable, twist, and you have the recipe for the perfect movie. Alright, maybe “perfect” is a bold statement, but I honestly can’t think of anything wrong with this movie or that I disliked about it. Isn’t that refreshing? To watch a movie and thoroughly enjoy it without nit-picking at anything? It doesn’t happen often but when it does…DAMN. I sincerely hope that the feeling can be replicated when I go see Glass. I’m so freaking excited.
Are you a fan of M. Night Shyamalan? Are you going to see Glass?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!