Rated: PG-13 :: Released: 22 November 2000
Director: M. Night Shyamalan :: Starring: Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson
By Doran Murphy
When you break a bone and can't use that arm like you have all your life, it takes some getting used to. The same would probably be true of a contemporary superhero: Once you found out you had powers, it would take a while to get used to having said powers. You may have had them your entire life, but, because what you could do just seems normal to you, you never realized you actually had them.
That's more or less M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable in a nutshell. It is about a man who could be something more than usual; he could be a superhero. He's not exactly Superman, frying stuff with his eyes, throwing trains around, bending steel with his bare hands and flying, but he's definitely special. He's never been sick a day in his life, he's never been injured and he's starting to find out that he might be different for a reason. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) could be some sort of superhuman being, and he works as a security guard at a football stadium.
That is, until he is the sole survivor of a train crash that kills upwards of 150 people. More perplexing, he is completely unharmed — it's a miracle. Upon surviving the wreck, he encounters a mysterious man known as Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). Elijah suffers from a degenerative bone disease which he's had nearly his entire life and it pretty much makes his bones as weak as sin. He's also really into comic books; he owns a comic art gallery, and has read comics since he was just a little boy. Oh, and he thinks that comic book superheroes exist in real life, and that David Dunn is one of them. See, he has this crazy theory that because his bones are really weak, there must be someone who is very strong to make up for it. It's a really neat dualistic theory; very much like yin and yang. So throughout the movie, Dunn is forced to come to terms with what he is — whether he likes it or not.
The acting here is simply superb. Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis don't normally turn in sub-par performances, but I'd say this is some of the best work we've seen from either of them. There's also a pair of child actors here, and it's good to see them not fuck everything up like child actors tend to do. Everyone had their shit together: Shyamalan, as both the writer and director, knew these characters implicitly and the actors carried out his vision exceedingly well. It's probably one of the greatest strengths of being a writer-director: None of the original vision is lost in the translation from page to screen.
Part of that vision is the remarkable soundtrack. The songs were composed specifically for Unbreakable and they possess a very unique, brooding feel to them. They're strong and atmospheric. The visual effects are somewhat muted, possibly so that it wouldn't detract from the story being told. The huge train crash which is the catalyst for the whole film isn't even shown; just the wreckage.
The DVD bonus features are pretty swell, too. There's the behind-the-scenes peek we've come to expect, a mini-documentary focusing on comic books (featuring Alex Ross and Samuel L. Jackson), an expanded view of the train station sequence, and two Alex Ross pictures which I have yet to find. (Maybe mine weren't in there.) Possibly the best features, however, are the deleted scenes. They're fully produced (unlike most other deleted scenes) and Shyamalan takes the time to explain each one: Where they would have been in relation to the rest of the film, why they were cut, etc.
All in all, this is one of the best superhero movies ever made. I feel kind of stupid reviewing it now, five years after it was released, but I just saw it — so if you're going to bring that up, you can go to Hell. It's got everything you need for a grade-A DVD, including great acting birthed from a solid story, stunning audio and visuals, and bonus features that are actually worth watching. Overall, great flick.