Unbreakable is a superhero film without action and without unrealistic superpowers. Our hero is David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a man who doesn’t know is a superhero. We don’t either. He’s contacted by a man named Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson) who believes that he is, and the film deals with him trying to get a grip on if he has powers, and what to do with them if he does.
Opening with David on a train, we watch him hide his wedding ring as a woman sits down beside him. They chat, and we find out she’s married. Their conversation is watched by a little girl, as the camera pans back and forth between each character, with no cuts. It was great to see this, and I was amazed with this camerawork. Then the train crashes, and everyone dies except for David. He awakens in a hospital without even a scratch on him. Everyone is stunned by this, but David doesn’t seem like much is out of the ordinary.
He works as a security guard at a football stadium. After work one day, he notices a note on the front of his car. “How many days of your life have you been sick?” This is what it reads, and it comes from a store called “Limited Edition”, a store run by the brittle Elijah. Elijah was born with broken bones, and has broken many since. The kids call him “Mr. Glass”, a named fitting for someone who gets broken quite easily.
They meet, and Elijah proposes the idea that David is a superhero, but just doesn’t know it. David can’t think of a time when he was sick. He’s been injured once, so his son says, during a car accident in college. Later, David bench presses 250 pounds, the most he’s ever done. And then he adds 100 more pounds, and doesn’t have much of an issue lifting it. He’s starting to believe. Most of the film deals with him trying to get a grasp on this, and figuring what to do if he does have powers. But there’s only one real action scene, and even it doesn’t have much action in it.
Essentially, Unbreakable is a drama, one that has the subject of a superhero but doesn’t act like typical superhero films. This is more of a character study with a mystery involved which the film hides for us as much as it can. There’s a slightly lackluster home life that David, his wife (Robin Wright Penn) and his son (Spencer Treat Clark) all share in, although surprisingly this new revelation doesn’t much factor in to the turmoil. Only one scene has this, which involves the son managing to acquire a firearm and pointing it at his father with the belief that no deaths will follow. There’s tension here, but Clark’s acting was poor and made the scene less powerful.
The other actors get rich characters to work with, although they all suffer from being far too quite. Most lines are whispered, which makes it seem like there isn’t a lot of emotion. Which is true enough, because there aren’t a lot of emotional scenes. A character ends up mentioning this at one point, and yes, it was intentional. But Willis gives a good performance as an introspective security guard, while Jackson is a man who spends most of his time limping or in a wheelchair, but is memorable and not your typical movie character.
There are a lot of good moments in this film, which are captivating and will keep you interested. For a slow-burning film, it’s quite entertaining, because you’re never quite sure whether or not David has any powers. When he brushes against someone, he gets a vision of them doing something, although what this means only gets revealed later on. There’s also a twist at the end that was shocking, although doesn’t actually alter much of the story, only making you see things in a little different light.
But the very end of the film is a great disappointment. It could have been left open ended by fading to black ten seconds earlier, but instead, we get two sentences that flash on our screen, telling us what happens after there is no more footage to show. But it’s unnecessary to show any of this, and it doesn’t give us a greater understanding of anything. It just serves to bring closure to something that didn’t need a conclusive finish, and I would have liked it to finish before those two sentences.
However, apart from these ten seconds, there isn’t much wrong with Unbreakable. Sure, the actors whisper too much, but these are just about the only things I can find fault in. The pacing, cinematography, and editing are all great. This is one technically sounds film, even if people looking for a fast-paced action film will be disappointed. There aren’t quick cuts all the time, which is refreshing, and there are (seemingly) no special effects either. It’s a character drama with a simple story about a man figuring things out about himself, and it’s a well-told story.
Unbreakable is almost perfect in my eyes, even if I didn’t exactly fall in love with it. It’s well-made with memorable characters and a solid story to keep you interested. Even if it’s slow-paced, there aren’t moments when you feel bored or want an arbitrary action scene to interrupt these characters and their thoughts. I enjoyed it, although I didn’t absolutely love it. It has few flaws that don’t detract from the experience all that much, and I’d recommend giving it a watch.