The Good: Good acting, Good character development, Interesting story, Courage
The Bad: Written as to be surprising, but it's not.
The Basics: A surprisingly good realist film that works when it stays true to itself, Unbreakable requires adult judgment to be thoroughly enjoyed.
Bruce Willis was in a sort of a rut as an actor. For a while, he seemed to land roles as somewhat slow, disoriented anti-heroes. An anti-hero is a protagonist who is heroic without possessing the qualities of a noble hero. It's a Modernist thing. To cite my example with Bruce Willis, see him in Twelve Monkeys, The Fifth Element, and . . . Unbreakable. That makes his acting here somewhat more difficult to judge because I'm not sure if he's cast as an anti-hero because he's been so good an actor (Twelve Monkeys) or if he is an anti-hero in real life.
Unbreakable follows David Dunn, the sole survivor of a train wreck outside Philadelphia. Shortly after his miraculous survival, he's contacted by Elijah Price a man with a severe bone disorder that causes his bones to be super brittle. Elijah asks David to consider a simple question, "How often have you been sick or injured in your life?" Well, David realizes after searching himself, his somewhat estranged wife and his employer, that he has never been ill or injured. So, the comic book loving Elijah proposes the obvious: "You, David Dunn, are a super hero."
The wonderful thing about this film is it's not a superhero film. It's a man in the process of becoming film and it works wonderfully as such. It's something new and different because it treats the fantastic (man to hero) in a realist vein. David Dunn isn't suddenly quick-witted or believing in his abilities. And yet, his quiet disposition and the lack of physical contact before all of this comes out play into the idea that the flashes of ability he begins to develop have occurred before. After all, if you were walking down the street, bumped into someone and saw a flash of what they were thinking, wouldn't you be less likely to touch people?
David Dunn is a believable character and his story is well told; think Batman starting at the very beginning, with the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, instead of where it begins with Batman. It's reassuring to see. And Elijah Price. Well, he makes sense. The serious fault in the film is in how it tries to deceive itself at the end. Right before the last scene, a fact about comic book heroes is revealed which is supposed to make us shocked at Elijah's character arc. It's attempting to take a realist film and make it more thriller. It doesn't work. If you don't guess Elijah's arc, you're not awake. That M. Night Shyamalan even makes the attempt to try to be clever as opposed to just having it develop without Elijah's mother's line (you'll know it when you hear it) is somewhat insulting for those of us who are, well, awake.
That's the only real fault of the film, though. Otherwise, it's appropriately paced, mixing together David Dunn's family life and his sense of what's happening with himself. Or rather what's always been there. It's a refreshing change from the . . . extraordinary.
I'd like to close with a thought I don't usually digress onto and that is appropriateness for children. Read my reviews and you might - easily - get the impression that I don't truly give a care in the world for matters concerning children. I'm an adult, I'm watching these things, I'm writing reviews from an adult perspective. Some of you, by this point, may even have picked up the idea that I don't much like children, as a general rule (Nicholas Cage in The Family Man's line, "I take them [children] on a case by case basis" fits me. Otherwise, I'm ambivalent to them.). That said, Unbreakable is not for children and I say this for an important reason. It's an adult film requiring adult sensibilities. If I were a parent and I watched this film, there's no way I'd let my child watch it. Why? At one point, David's son, Joseph, who believes as Elijah does, that David possesses extraordinary strength and ability, pulls a gun on David. It's a wonderful scene. I mean it. I applaud M. Night Shyamalan's courage in writing and directing the scene and the studio for keeping it in the film. It was a HUGE decision in this day in age where there is violence in schools and such. It took courage and the scene is magnificent. But odds are, some impressionable kid could do something truly idiotic based on it. It's an adult scene in an adult movie and it works like that.
Unbreakable might not be a perfect film, but it's good, adult entertainment that tells a real, human story. After all the garbage I've watched lately that's so juvenile, let me just say: Finally. :)
For other films with unlikely heroes, please check out:
Alice In Wonderland
For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.