After a tragic accident where security guard David Dunn is the only survivor, comic enthusiast Elijah Price seeks him out and tells him he might be extraordinary.
If you’re a fan of M. Night Shaymalan’s films, then you’re in luck! We were recently asked to do a series of reviews on his movies, so be on the look out for those and keep your ears open for our special podcast episode coming soon.
It had been a long time since I’d watched “Unbreakable”, but I’d watched it’s spiritual-sequel, “Split”, recently, and had wanted to go back and revisit it. This is M. Night during his glory days, when everything he touched was still good (this film isn’t great enough to call gold, but it’s certainly worth seeing). Nowadays, seeing M. Night’s name across the marquee might be enough warning to send you to a different theatre, but in 2000, only a year after the success of “The Sixth Sense”, M. Night was a hot commodity.
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
A horrifying train accident leaves all of the passengers dead, except for David Dunn (Bruce Willis, “The Sixth Sense”). Dunn inexplicably walks away from the accident without a scratch on him, and tries to return to his normal life, only to be confronted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson, “Pulp Fiction”), a comic book enthusiast who is convinced Dunn might be something more than normal.
For the most part, I really enjoy this film. There are three great performances by our leads: Jackson, Willis, and Robin Wright (“The Princess Bride”) who plays Willis’s wife, with whom he’s having trouble. I always find that Willis is best when he plays his characters with more subtlety. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Die Hard movies, but as far as acting goes, Willis is at his best when he’s having a conversation, not driving cars into helicopters. Jackson is pretty good in this too; there are a few moments of melodrama between him and Willis, but I think that might just be the way M. Night directs his actors (more on that in a moment). Robin Wright is fantastic, but I always find her to be a touch underrated. In this movie, she’s incredibly classy while still being able to portray a convicted wife. There’s a lot of depth to the relationship between Wright and Willis in this film, and that makes the characters in this movie far more interesting than the characters in, say, “The Happening”.
I think directing in this movie is another thing done well, but not without flaw. There are a few bits that I thought M. Night went a little heavy-handed on. For example, it seems that every time the character is about to have a kind of revelation, the camera is spun upside-down. At first when this happened I found it very clever, but by the fourth time I was just waiting for the next upside-down shot to tell me where another twist was. For the most part, however, M. Night directs scenes with a lot of precision. The first scene, for example, where we witness Elijah Price’s birth, is all shot in one take, plus, they use a mirror as a framing device, foreshadowing Price’s nickname, Mr. Glass.
I think M. Night’s writing is actually a lot better than his directing in this movie, in particular. There are a few scenes, that really just didn’t work for me as well as they should have, but there’s so many layers to the story that he’s telling that for the most part, I could forgive it. Some of the lines seem a little cheesy or melodramatic, but again, with the style of story, I could forgive that. I actually really appreciate how dark the story went towards the end of the film. M. Night wants to show what the world would look like if there were some kind of superhero figure alive in modern times, and he goes extremely dark with it. That part was actually one of the better things in the movie, as is the way they depict the ‘fighting’ between the bad guy and the good. I did feel like the twist near the end was only just okay… I won’t give it away, but I will go so far as to say that I’d seen this movie before and completely forgotten about the twist. For me, it seemed a touch on the nose throughout the film.
Overall, this is a pretty darn good movie. A few scenes of acting are a touch weaker than others; a few directorial choices are bit odd or heavy handed; but for the most part, this is a really well crafted thriller. I’m actually excited for M. Night’s upcoming film “Glass”, which will be the third installment in the “Unbreakable” franchise. It’s the first time in fifteen years that I can say I’ve been excited for Shaymalan movie.
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