Genre: Sci-Fi Drama and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.
Release Date: November 22nd, 2000 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: M. Night Shyamalan Actors: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, Leslie Stefanson
,000 comics are sold in the U.S. every day (a statistic really only relevant for the late ’90s and early 2000s). And the average collector spends a year of their life reading them. How this relates to the following story isn’t immediately evident, especially considering that the opening scene, set in a Philadelphia Department Store in 1961, involves a child who was just delivered – requiring emergency medical attention as it’s assumed he’s suffered numerous fractures while in the uterus.
Some time later, university stadium security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is on the Eastrail train #177, where he flirts with Kelly (Leslie Stefanson), a sports agent. The interaction turns sour, however, as she becomes uncomfortable with his small talk, which sounds as if he’s interested in seeing more of her. But he has greater things to worry about when, moments later, the train derails, scattering the cars and causing significant destruction. David awakes in the local hospital, where a doctor interrogates him, particularly concerned with where he might have been during the accident, as everyone else onboard has perished – and David didn’t receive so much as a scratch.
His wife (Robin Wright Penn) and son (Spencer Treat Clark) meet him at the hospital, though it’s soon revealed that his marriage is nearing its end. After the memorial service for the deceased, David finds an envelope under the windshield wiper of his car, which has the question “How many days of your life have you been sick?” printed on a card inside. This inspires Dunn to inquire about sick days at his job, and then to ask his wife about colds and flus – of which neither can remember David having ever been sick during their entire marriage and during their son’s childhood. What could it mean?
As if a parallel to Dunn’s strange immunity to illnesses, another Philadelphia resident, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), grows up afflicted with a rare genetic disorder that causes his bones to be exceptionally brittle. Regularly mocked as “Mr. Glass” by his peers, Price now runs an art gallery, called Limited Edition, which features valuable comic book pieces. It’s a fitting career for the fragile man, who has spent a third of his life in hospital beds, unable to do much other than read.
As Price explains, comics are a way to pass on history and knowledge through the generations; only in modern culture have they become corrupted by predominantly cartoony imagery. Their originations may have been mere exaggerations of the truth; it’s possible that superheroes actually exist, possessing powers as inconspicuous as dependable instincts – and equivalents of Kryptonite as innocuous as the weather. Peculiarly, Dunn seems to know when people pose threats, or have bad intentions. Of course, he naturally pushes back at the idea that he’s some sort of real-life superhero; Price is likely a fanatic with a few screws loose.
“I suggested a rather unbelievable possibility.” With M. Night Shyamalan serving as a one-man army of a filmmaker (producing, writing, and directing – and appearing in his standard cameo), “Unbreakable” is very much his vision of good versus evil and of remarkable heroes existing amid common folk. Interestingly, it’s not quite in the same vein as his previous work (“The Sixth Sense”), as it strays away from outright supernatural horrors in favor of the brighter angle of fantasy. It does, however, share the same approach to occult themes; there’s a pervading sense of grounded realism, even when events grow more far-fetched.
Here, there’s also a slowness, partly to build characters, but also to allow the extraordinary concepts to sink in; Shyamalan doesn’t want to rush his viewers into buying into the more outlandish components. Yet the pacing is problematic, since a dramatic, low-key take on superheroes is a difficult sell – both to comic book fans and to audiences looking for greater levels of action. Moderate amounts of suspense find their way into “Unbreakable,” but it’s ultimately about small feats of heroism – the littler, quieter ways in which people can excel, such as mending relationships and being role models for children – and not the donning of colorful costumes to leap from tall buildings. Plus, there’s something satisfying in the dual application of the title, which applies to the physical invincibility of Dunn, right alongside the mental strength of Price. Sadly, Shyamalan’s success with “The Sixth Sense” gave him the idea of pursuing twist endings as his signature move, which causes “Unbreakable” to have an overwhelmingly disappointing close.
– Mike Massie