Movie Project #16: Unbreakable [2000]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Unbreakable [2000]

Unbreakable [2000] 
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Sci-Fi
Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark
Running Time: 106 minutes

Riding the wave of success from the massive box office hit, The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan immediately followed with Unbreakable, a superhero origin film that has become quite a cult favorite since. Many would argue that this is his best film, though that’s hardly a bold position given his recent output.

Unbreakable rides almost entirely on two men — Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. Willis plays a security guard named David Dunn, a once promising football player who is now trying to fix his relationships at home. His wife, Audrey (Robin Wright, then also having Penn as a surname), is distant, and David has considered taking a new job in New York because of this. They have a young son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), that is caught in the middle of their continuously eroding marriage.

Samuel L. Jackson is Elijah Price, a comic book aficionado who was born with a rare disease that makes his bones especially brittle. His constant injuries led to childhood bullies naming him “Mr. Glass”, and the moniker has stuck with him ever since. Price seems to have read too many comic books because he is convinced that there is someone on the opposite side of the spectrum from him — someone who is indestructible and impervious to pain.

Unbreakable [2000]

That man is David, who at the beginning of the film is the only person to survive a horrific train crash. Elijah hears about this news and seeks out David, telling him what he truly believes. With much persistence from his son, Joseph, David finally realizes for himself that maybe he does in fact have powers beyond the realm of normal men.

The way this story is told is actually quite revelatory; it is very low key and comes across as surprisingly believable. The film’s pacing is almost methodical, but it does an excellent job of building up both main characters. It’s much more subdued than a typical superhero film — a huge plus in my book.

It’s a shame then that the ending nearly makes the entire film fall apart.

Unbreakable [2000]

Now, given that this is a M. Night Shyamalan film, there is naturally a huge plot twist near the end. This in itself is not a bad thing, even though there are so many hints as to where it’s going that it really isn’t all that shocking. No, the problem is that it ends so abruptly. Just as we get the big revelation, the film rushes to an end, and then has the balls to display two “what happened next” screen captions.

I can handle Shyamalan’s overabundance of gimmicky shots (of which there are many in this), but this conclusion is just absurd.

Unbreakable is generally quite good until this point, but it really left me with a sour taste in my mouth. It’s too bad that Shyamalan followed this up with Signs and The Village and so on, because this could have led to some very intriguing sequels (as was originally planned).


24 thoughts on “Movie Project #16: Unbreakable [2000]

  1. yaykisspurr says:

    The pacing of this movie seems really good until the last third like you mentioned, but I think the real problem is a story pacing problem from the very start. It’s written almost as if he had no clue as to how the movie would end so much so it feels like a shock even to the director himself! I do like the start of the film but I feel like it needed more story heft, i.e. events that support the end. Anyway I totally agree about the sour taste. In fact Shyamalan’s entire career seems to do that after Sixth Sense. Cheers.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Yeah, I can get behind that. It felt like there was still so much story to tell, and that’s what made the rushed ending so disappointing. It really is a shame Shyamalan’s career went downhill so fast after this…

  2. The Cinemaniac says:

    Unbreakable is one of those films I’ve been meaning to get around to for THE longest time. I think the fact that it’s M. Night Shyamalan is kinda pushing me away, though. I’ll probably just sit down at one point and watch all his films straight through. I think the only ones I’ve seen of his are The Last Airbender, The Lady in the Water, and (of course) The Sixth Sense. Take a guess as to which one of those three I actually DIDN’T thoroughly despise.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Yeah, I think I steered away from it for so long because of the Shyamalan connection as well. I don’t know if I would recommend sitting through *all* of his filmography, but Unbreakable is worth a watch at least. I’m curious to hear what you think when you check it out.

  3. The Vern says:

    I never thought of the ending as being bad, I just thought the reveal was kinda quick. Still think that this is a damn good movie, and a really nice super hero origin that is different from the others. Nice review

  4. Tom says:

    Top notch review sir. I really have to admit I don’t recall those ending credits “what happened next ” scenes, but I don’t for a second deny it. Sounds totally like an M. Night thing to do. Gah he’s such an exasperating director. I find I might be one of the few who actually really liked Signs but Unbreakable is something he will unfortunately never top.

  5. Jaina says:

    Aww, wish you’d like this one more. It’s probably one of my favourite “comic book hero” films. It’s cleverly made. Willis and Jackson play fantastically off one another and I really liked the ending. It worked for me.

    Loved the building of it all, and the atmosphere. Shamalamdingdong hasn’t done anything better.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      It sounds like I am in the minority on this one. 🙂 I definitely appreciated the slow buildup and the unconventional twist to the comic book hero formula, but the way the ending was executed really left a sour taste in my mouth.

  6. Chris says:

    I agree with other comments that I wish you’d like this one more. At least you quite liked it! I think its an interesting take on the superhero genre. Probably my favorite Shyamalan film, though I haven’t seen the director’s recent critically panned output.

  7. ruth says:

    This is actually my fave M Night film, yes even after the brilliant Sixth Sense. I have no problem w/ the ending, but I think the entire film is just fantastic.

  8. Dan Heaton says:

    I haven’t seen Unbreakable in a long time, but I remember the ending with the text on screen being jarring. I think that it was designed to be like a comic book where it ends and then sets the stage for another chapter. That was my theory at least. The big twist (while outlandish) didn’t bother me too much, but it did go down a notch because of the strange ending.

    Either way, Unbreakable is easily my favorite from Shyamalan because it’s less about the twist and more about the journey and atmosphere. It’s quite a gripping film, and I still can’t figure out what happened to the director of this film, The Sixth Sense, and a little bit of Signs.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Hey Dan, I think you’re onto something with that theory. If that was Shyamalan’s intent, it makes more sense, but it’s disappointing that it’s all we have been left with since. I’m really curious what a possible sequel or trilogy would have been like. As you said, the buildup and atmosphere were incredible. It just could have been so much more.

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