I must admit it. The first time I saw ‘Unbreakable’ I was somewhat disappointed. Once Bruce Willis’s character, David Dunn realizes he is a super-hero, I expected that he would start to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The movie seemed to end abruptly, and I scratched my head.
Until I watched it again.
It was then I realized that this movie contained some of the most brilliant filmmaking done in a long long time. Shymalan has set a new standard for how super-hero movies will be done in the future. In this one, we don’t have a guy who goes around getting dressed up like a bat, doesn’t get bitten by some radioactive spider and doesn’t come from a planet light years away. David Dunn is an average guy with family and career problems like anybody else. It isn’t until he is the only survivor — he doesn’t have a scratch on him — of a train wreck that kills 118 others that he realizes he may be different.
This realization is pushed forward by a man named Elijah Prince (the always good Samuel L. Jackson), a comic art dealer who happens to have a rare genetic disorder that makes his bones very brittle. He enters Dunn’s life and after some initial trepidation regarding Prince’s bizarre theory, Dunn slowly begins to realize what he is.
Shymalan didn’t set out to make a typical super-hero movie. What he did instead, was present us with the first act of a movie that will obviously bring about a sequel. It tells the story of how a seemingly ordinary man turns out to be anything but and reveals the start of a relationship between the hero and the villain. It also allows us a glimpse of how the arch-villain came into being. This time it isn’t from some dip in a pool of chemicals, but rather a descent that starts with the physical and continues with the mind.
Shymalan’s camera angles, use of color and light all play a part as the story unfolds. It starts with the train sequence. The camera moving back and forth as though you are sitting there watching what Willis is doing. You get an early take on Dunn’s life as he is seen quickly removing his wedding band when a young, attractive woman sits next to him. Later on, when Dunn goes out to do his good deeds (his character has a way of seeing what people have done in the near past by touching them) he enters a train station to go where people go. Shymalan uses color here in a way that is subtle and yet not at the same time. The people who Dunn touches are just passing by until you see the flash of what they have done, and then the colors they are wearing stand out as much brighter than anything anybody else is wearing.
In the scene where Dunn confronts his first ‘bad guy’ the camera angle is low, viewing the scene from the floor up as you see this monster of a man who has just made orphans of two teenage girls. He looks menacing and strong. When Dunn grabs a hold of him, the camera slowly rises — as Dunn continues to gain an upper hand we are witness to a bad person’s slow demise with good coming out on top of evil. This scene is harrowing and extremely emotional as Dunn struggles to overcome the strength of this man, but does not falter because he doesn’t feel pain, but you can see the struggle.
The movie is a departure from the usual hero/villain movies we have all come to know. It usually begins with the villain doing something terrible to the hero or his family and the hero vowing revenge at all costs. There’s no formula here. It’s a thriller that draws you in slowly, with a tension and unease not seen in other films.
Why do I say it is better than ‘The Sixth Sense?’ Well, when you remove the surprise ending (which was good, don’t get me wrong), we’re left with a conventional suspense/horror movie that relies on fast camera shots and loud bursts of music to jolt the audience. ‘The Sixth Sense’ was an example of very good movie making. ‘Unbreakable’ is an example of excellent filmmaking. If you have only seen ‘Unbreakable’ once, then I urge you to rent it and watch it again.