Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #452: Unbreakable

Unbreakable (2000) is a movie that is becoming more and more relevant as time goes by. For one thing it is one of the last good movies M. Night Shyamalan made before his career took a pretty steep nose-dive. For another it deals with the idea of super heroes and villains in a world where none of those exist and yet and approaches these concepts while steeped in realism. Nowadays there are at least five super hero movies that come out every year, but Unbreakable still feels fresh and original despite the fact two of its actors are now part of the Marvel and DC movie universe.

Early on in his career Shyamalan became known for the twist endings in his movies, and Unbreakable is no exception. Unfortunately it took me 15 years to finally see the whole thing on Netflix and by then the ending had been spoiled just like with The Sixth Sense. Then the same thing happened again this year when Shyamalan released Split in which SPOILER ALERT, Bruce Willis has a cameo at the end. When the next sequel, Glass, comes out you can be sure I will be there on opening weekend and block out the Internet until I get to whatever twist ending he will come up with this time.

However even if you know what’s coming Unbreakable is still a lot of fun to watch in the way that it unfolds. Initially there are no signs that this belongs to the super hero genre and at times it almost feels like an episode of The X-Files. Bruce Willis’ David Dunn is a security guard living in Philadelphia who has not done anything extraordinary with his life. That is until the day he survives a massive train accident with not a single scratch on his body while every other passenger perished.

His miraculous survival attracts the attention of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson, who is now Nick Fury in the Marvel movies), the owner of a comic book store. Unlike the character of Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons, Elijah is no joke and does not see comic books as a joke either. When a customer says he will give a rare cover to his son as a birthday present, Elijah cancels the sale because that cover is a piece of art to be admired by connoisseurs. Elijah also suffers from a rare condition that makes his bones very fragile and prone to fractures. He reasons that if a man like him exists; there must be someone on the other end of the spectrum who would be near impervious to pain. Such a man could be a real super hero.

David naturally believes Elijah is a quack, but David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) would of course love it if his dad were a super hero. Eventually David grows curious and asks his wife Audrey (Robin Wright, who played warrior Antiope in this year’s Wonder Woman) exactly when was the last time David got sick? Looking back on his medical history David realizes the only time he truly suffered physically was during a near drowning incident. If you know comic books, and by now many people do, you would know most superheroes have at least one key weakness and Elijah deduces that David’s is water.

By the end of Unbreakable you have a superhero who has accepted his mission in life, has chosen a low-key costume, and has encountered a surprising super villain. Yet all of this takes place without any of the massive third-act explosions of the DC films, the cosmic weirdness of some of the Marvel films, or the presence of the colourful mutants of the Fox films. At the end of his journey David Dunn is still a pretty ordinary guy living in Philadelphia while trying to keep his marriage together, and the biggest fight he has is with a murderer the end credits refer to as The Orange Man. This is not exactly Star Lord versus Ego The Living Planet, but the fight is still beautifully shot and filled with suspense.

Thanks to the way Shyamalan uses Bruce Willis’ everyman persona you feel as though his character is a real person living in our world where there is no such thing as super powers. It still stands in today’s crowded field of comic book adaptations and now that Shyamalan’s career seems to be finally on the rise again it will be very interesting to see what he does with the further adventures of David Dunn.     


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #64: Oldboy

One thing I have noticed from the few Korean films I have seen so far is that Korean cinema really doesn’t hold back. One of that country’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movie is Oldboy (2003), which has amazing performances, beautifully choreographed fight scenes and a story filled with many twists and turns. It also has plenty of scenes that will make you squirm whether because of graphic violence, very disturbing revelation, or because you prefer your calamari fried instead of alive.
This was one of the last movies I rented from a video store in the pre-Netflix days in early 2009. By then its reputation had grown in the west especially since on top of the many awards it had won it had also earned high praise from Quentin Tarantino who knows a thing or two about violent and entertaining movies. On paper Oldboy’s plot sounds like something right up his alley: a man is seemingly wronged by an adversary and that man then seeks bloody retribution. However while T…