Unbreakable (2000)

unbreakable

“Now that we know who you are, I know who I am. I’m not a mistake.”

The Scoop: 2000 PG-13, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Robin Wright-Penn

Tagline: Are you ready for the truth?

Summary Capsule: A security guard discovers an odd secret about himself that ties him together to a disabled man

PoolMan’s rating: It’s going… going… going…! Gone… sigh.

PoolMan’s review: Unbreakable… man, The Sixth Sense sure was a tough act to follow, wasn’t it? We once again see Bruce Willis teamed up with a young child (this time played by a young actor with nowhere near the talent of Haley Joel Osmont) in a M Night Shmlyanawhoositz movie, filled with dark cinematography, imagery, and characters with mysterious characteristics and strange talents. Sound familiar? Methinks the next M Night movie will feature Bruce with the Olsen twins in a flick about a guy who can hear shadows talking… about their favourite Simpsons episodes!

Sorry for the downward tone. It’s just that every time I get myself to thinking about Unbreakable, I remember two things: 1) the great, tense lead-up, filled with interesting twists, turns, and convincing relationships and 2) the ending that pooped all over said lead-up.

What did I like? The opening of Unbreakable was really, really tense. Injured newborns, overturned flirting attempts, a train wreck… there’s a note of desperation in all the characters as they’re introduced. And every character is well thought out, relevant, and well played. Samuel L. Jackson (despite having obscenely weird hair and clothing by Pimps R Us) is extremely convincing as the crippled Elijah, Brucie is a very sympathetic and reluctant hero, and Princess Buttercup even turns in a good performance as the weary wife (who’s aged so much since The Princess Bride that Justin didn’t recognize her for a good while). Also, it was wisely decided upon that Willis’ emerging hero character would not adopt some cheesy spandex outfit, and for that I am immeasurably grateful. And believe you me, Justin and I were both very afraid of that one.

So what am I harping about? Our friend M Night tried for another Sixth Sense-esque twist ending. It’s a twist all right, but it comes so quickly that it’s over before you know it, and it leaves you high and dry. I thought there was another fifteen to twenty minutes to go in the film when the big surprise hits, but it’s actually about another 40 seconds. After such a great exercise in character and story building, the end was just inexcusable. And personally, I find the ending captions insulting. After two hours of careful building, you think a few sentences printed on screen get you off the hook? And it bears noting that if this had been released before SS, it would have done better, and SS itself would have been hailed as a masterstroke. Timing is everything. I wonder how the next “sequel” will compare?

What really frustrates me is not the ending, really. It’s the fact that such a long, dramatic, and effective buildup was so poorly used. I suppose that, like in Sixth Sense, there’s a lot to be seen in the second viewing. Little references, tricks, or visuals which mean so much more when you know how it all turns out (Justin caught on to the abundant “glass” shots long before I did). But unlike the earlier film, I can wait a while before I take this in again.

Justin’s rating: Yes.

Justin’s review: What a difficult, difficult — and hard — film to review. I could easier fill up this space describing the paradox of PoolMan’s goatee, which consists of two crescent moons never quite touching, but if I did that I’d be shirking my responsibility of being immature. Why difficultish? I need an angle to start with, letsee… comic books. That’ll work.

You see, the whole secrecy wrapping around Unbreakable made it very difficult to predict what kind of movie I was going to see. About the only thing we had to go on is that it had Bruce Willis and was made by the same dude who did The Sixth Sense, so there were obviously no expectations for a spooky horror/thriller/mindtwister. None at all. But when we watched this film, I quickly learned that despite all preconceptions, this was a bloomin’ SUPERHERO flick! Yeah, I sure got that out of those “train crash” trailers.

So Bruce, this moody monolithic man is some sort of superhero in the making, despite the fact that he looks so chronically depressed that he single-handedly started the Prozac industry. Very sad man mopes from scene to scene, trying to figure out what exactly his superpower is (shooting toothpaste from his nostrils), what his limits are (Twinkies), and what he’s supposed to do (make a movie that confused the heck out of this mutant).

I got lost during this in sheer awe of the craftsmanship that went into making this movie. Sure, I know “craftsmanship” is right up there in most of your Reasons To See A Movie with “costume design”, but it’s hard not to notice that there’s a certain elegance that severely counters the typical MTV quick-cut music video flicks of today. M. Night gives us some very unique shots (a few scenes are seen entirely through reflections on a mirror or glass or TV screen), and the mood is laid on very thick. For me, it was nearly impossible to stay outside of the movie, and I do like being sucked in. However, I’m sure that many won’t like the slooooow pacing, but it builds wonderfully to the dramatic and unfortunately quick end.

Thus the bane of this review: I’m forbidden, under threat of castration by the Online Film Critics Society (those pretentious snobs), to discuss the ending. As much as I like to denounce the existence of Santa Claus to youngsters, there are just some things you don’t ruin. But I do think I can discuss a very similar setup and delivery that happens early in the movie, and let you draw your own parallels from there.

You know there’s a train crash, right, and that Bruce is in it? No spoils there. The entire train scene has Bruce (in all his world-weary baldness) unsuccessfully hitting on a married woman, witnessed by a young kid, no less. It’s a fairly trite and kind of sad scene, except that we all know that impending doom and much gorey deaths are right around the corner. Similar to Final Destination, the audience is slowly writhing in anticipation of the oncoming horror. It’s going to happen, there is no escape, that sort of thing. As ominous sounds creak through the train reverberate indicating disaster, we steel ourselves (with Reeses Pieces for comfort food), and then… cut.

They don’t show the flipping train wreck! We get some cheap, tacked-on TV footage showing the wreck, and I feel somewhat robbed from what could have been a very satisfying follow-through. While not exactly alike (or at least redundant), the ending of Unbreakable calls those same feelings within my soul.

Leaving the “twist” firmly in the past of this review, I must say that both Willis and Jackson (as a fragile and strong-willed comic enthusiast) do top-notched jobs. I mean, bravo. They should get raises or something. Both roles aren’t very typical for these actors, but they fully flesh out the parts of two men revolving around a gigantic ball of mystery. In fact, they all but dominate the film, leaving other more-forgotten bit parts in their wake. Bruce’s kid (hereafter known as Haley Joel Osmont #2) does get some gripping scenes, particularly in one where he desperately wants to prove to the world that his dad is more than he seems. But Robin Wright continues her streak of vapid, mildly stressed females (after the ditzy Buttercup and the skanky Jenny), and fades quickly into the background. Who needs her anyway.

Unbreakable made me think afterward, a lot. It’s one of those films where you’ll be chewing over the plot for quite a few days, but it also has this weird pseudo-curse that makes it very tough to discuss with others. PoolMan kind of wanted me to talk about it more with him, but I really couldn’t, other than to say obvious things. Unbreakable doesn’t answer all the questions presented within the film, but it answers all of the important ones, and what queries leaves behind are pure conjecture on the part of the moviegoer. Now leave me alone, I have to go save the world. From Britney Spears, the evil temptress.

Clare’s rating: How does one spell the sound of the act of vomiting?

Clare’s review: There are two reasons why I would decide that a movie is irredeemably bad. The first is if it is so poorly done, so badly written and/or acted and/or directed that the art of film making is blighted by its existence. The Doom Generation is the pinnacle example of this kind of bad movie. The second reason is a little more blurry and, I think, far more damning a reason to banish a movie to hell. If a film COULD be really good, if it has a good cast, a good basic plot or idea it centers around and uses interesting camera techniques to tell the story, but turns out to be an insulting, stupid, arrogant vanity project for the director, it’s the worst kind of movie there is. If only M. Night Shama-lama-ding-dong had not gotten in the way of Unbreakable’s potential, this movie could have been great. It’s the “could have been” factor that moves me from being merely disappointed to actively peeved.

I went to see this movie not really knowing what it was about except that the previews clued me in on the fact that Bruce Willis’ character is, um, unbreakable. The preview was dark and slow and cool and a really good tease to want to find out more. So I went and checked it out. I was pleased to find out that not only are comic books a central theme in the movie but also that the director of photography did a lot of neat things to make different shots look very much like framed illustrations. The slow pacing, the interesting lighting and the unorthodox camera angles all lead me to believe that if I just stuck this one out I’d eventually be rewarded with something really cool. Bruce Willis was actually acting for a change and did some really good things to display his characters feelings of being lost, broken (metaphorically of course) and unhappy. There was all this MOOD being created and all these individual SCENES that were well done, so I had hope. In fact, I was pretty convinced that I liked Unbreakable until the last three minutes played out and I was left to sit there wondering what the hell had just happened. THIS stupid, lame, poorly done, unreasonable, cheap assed ending was what all the cool stuff before it was leading up to?? There must have been a mistake somewhere in the editing room or I’d gotten a bad batch of sour patch kids and was hallucinating. My sister and our friend (who is an illustrator and avid comic book fan) actually laughed, heartily and with great disdain at the ending. I just sat there with my mouth agape looking around to see if everyone else in the theater had just seen what I’d seen.

SPOILERS:

Why did M. Night Boom Shalaka-laka Boom end a movie by doing freeze frames on the two leads with text over them explaining what happens next when everything was just about to get really freakin’ interesting? I thought at first that he might have been unsuccessfully trying to give the movie a classic comic book quasi-cliffhanger ending. Then I realized that this freeze frame/text technique is actually a classic comedy device used in movies commonly described as being either “wacky” or “zany”. Used here it just takes all the meticulously crafted suspense and character building and flushes it swiftly down the toilet. Besides the stupid WAY the ending went down, the actual information provided to us about what happens next is amazingly off kilter with the rest of the story and made no sense what so ever. I, unlike Justin, am not concerned about upholding my oath to on-line movie reviews and will gladly lob this question to anyone who cares to find out more than they should about Unbreakable‘s “twist” ending. If you’re still saving yourself for the horrifying disappointment you will feel, don’t read the following section of this review.

Why in the hell would a man who’s just come to realize and accept the fact that he has super powers call the cops when finally confronted by his arch enemy? What kind of comic book fan does M. Night claim to be that THIS is what he’d decide his characters should be doing? I’m not a huge comic book aficionado, but I have respect for it as an art form and a way of telling stories and I just can’t fricking believe that we’re lead into finally understanding that Bruce Willis’ character really IS a super hero only to have him wuss out. For god’s sake his enemy is in a wheel chair! All he’d have to do is go over and give him a serious case of noogies to whip him into submission. Call the cops?!? Me no likey!

END SPOILERS!

There were plenty of parts in the body of the movie that could have easily been removed or trimmed to make room for a more satisfying ending. The director’s “cameo” was the most useless scene of the film, lending nothing to the plot or the suspense and shouldn’t have been anywhere in this movie no matter what the ending was. It makes me start grinding my teeth just thinking about it.

I can understand why some people would like this movie. I thought I liked it too. But when a film with characters this detailed and complicated gets derailed by this kind of slapdash ending, it’s insulting to the audience. I spent a couple hours invested in a story and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the director/writer to stop kissing his own ass long enough to actually resolve the conflict and climax he’s created. So, as my grandma always used to say, a bunch of well photographed scenes leading up to a big pile of poo does NOT equal a good movie and therefore I brand Unbreakable as a useless waste of time and energy. Don’t bother.

Kyle’s rating: Nice try, really! Better luck next time, maybe.

Kyle’s review: I’ll be brief, as my fellow Mutants have already spoken at length and I agree with their sentiments exactly (plus they expressed them so much more eloquently than I would have!).

All I want to say is that I rented Unbreakable so I could say I saw it, and now I can honestly say I have seen Unbreakable. And jeepers, what a train wreck! Figuratively, that is. You can’t help but notice it and remember it, and everyone who sees it remembers things differently. How are people going to remember Unbreakable (or The Sixth Sense?) in five years? Who knows? I don’t care, actually.

I guess I need to get some true reviewing done, eh? Well, this movie has a lot of neat ideas and a wonderful cast. It’s just a shame that it’s put together so poorly, which is ironic considering how lauded M. Night Shamalayan is. Unbreakable might have been incredible in the hands of another director, but now I guess we’ll never know. Rent it if you want, but don’t expect much!

Lissa’s rating: Ah, the beauty of Mutant Reviewers from Hell – I’m going against the stream!

Lissa’s review: I will warn you right now, I will not reveal the ending of Unbreakable, even though 90% of you probably know it and are sick of people talking about it in vague terms and ready to shout “DUDE! WE KNOW! JUST SAY IT!” But see, I was one of the 10% who hadn’t seen The Sixth Sense for a long time, and then Maxim magazine ran an article on the 100 Best Movie Moments ever and revealed the ending, and I was furious. It was still a good movie, mind you, but the experience of watching it was completely different.

I can’t remember if I knew the ending of Unbreakable before I saw it or not. I don’t think I knew the whole ending, but I think I knew part of it. Needless to say, I did see the ending coming from a mile away. I wasn’t sure what the big twist was, which does make me think maybe I was spoiled. Either that or I’m smarter than M. Night Shy-whotchamawatchie, and while that’s very nice to think, it’s not very nice to say. (And he’d probably mock me for not bothering to spell his name right anyway, so I definitely shouldn’t say it.)

However, like The Sixth Sense, I still found the movie enjoyable. In fact, I think I found it even more enjoyable not worrying too much about the twist ending. See, you know the REAL reason the big twist ending doesn’t work for Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, or The Lady in the Water (if there is one)? People are expecting it, and if people are expecting to be stunned like that and wowed, it doesn’t work. Your brain starts saying “okay, now what IS the twist here? How do I solve this mystery?” instead of just going with the movie. The twist in the Sixth Sense worked because people didn’t expect it.

That’s my ever-so-knowledgeable opinion, anyway.

I, however, had gone into Unbreakable having read less than stellar reviews. I love Night’s work, but for some reason I’ve never really gotten into the idea of him as a horror film maker. I didn’t find The Sixth Sense scary at all, and while I was on the edge of my seat for Signs, it was suspense, not horror. Also, because Signs was the first Night movie I saw, I don’t think I thought he was as subtle and brilliant as those who saw The Sixth Sense first thought he was. So I actually really enjoyed Unbreakable.

Night does definitely have a distinct stamp on his movies. The pacing of Unbreakable is slow. Not ponderously slow, though. The slowness of it, the sparse music, and the scenes where the dialogue is completely overridden by music contribute to the disjointed feel of the movie, and that disjointed feel is accurate. The movie is about a man whose entire life is thrown out of context by what amounts to a miracle, and he no longer knows what to make of his world… or he realizes that he never knew what to make of it in the first place.

What really made this movie for me was the characterization. I’ve been drawn in by a lot of Night’s characters — they’re always real people with problems that most people can relate to in addition to their less common/realistic issue. The two main characters were fascinating to me, and that was what kept me in the movie, more than the promise of any twist endings or anything like that.

I also have to say that while I rarely comment on the DVD itself in a review, I really enjoyed the deleted scenes on this one. What made them different from your average deleted scenes wasn’t the quality, but the fact that Night actually talked about each scene, explaining what he liked about it, why it was written, and why it was deleted. I wish more people would do this.

I find it interesting that this review is coming out so glowing, because when I finished watching the movie I wasn’t jumping up and down about it. I’ve actually liked it more and more as I’ve turned it over in my mind. Definitely worth the rent, especially now that all the hype has died down. Few movies actually benefit from hype, and Unbreakable is no exception to that generalization.

Wonder Woman #455. The one where she forgets her lasso and has to make do with a few tied-together rubber bands.

Intermission!

  • The Active Comics name and logo is an obvious take on the Action Comics of old. For a movie so obsessed with comic books, you’d think they’d at least buy a recognizeable franchise.
  • M Night himself has a cameo as a suspected drug dealer that Dunn frisks at the game.
  • Osteogenesis Imperfecta is a real but rare disease and is accurately portrayed in the movie.
  • Several camera angles were chosen to simulate the comic book device of a frame around each scene.
  • The establishing shot of Audrey at the care center as seen through a fogged circle frame echoes the intro shot of Lois Lane through Jimmy Olsen’s camera in Superman
  • The film takes place in Philadelphia. On the wall of Elijah’s workshop among the newspaper clippings is a headline “Killer Virus Released at Airport”. Bruce Willis starred in Twelve Monkeys, in which a killer virus was first released at the Philadelphia airport.
  • The piano piece that is played during Elijah’s exhibition is the same one being practiced by Marie’s/Rogue’s mother in the opening scenes of X-Men.
  • In Die Hard With a Vengeance, Inspector Cobb says of McClane (Bruce Willis) that “by next month he’s gonna be a security guard”. In this movie, Willis finally is a security guard.

The Clues! SPOILERS!

  • Elijah gives himself a comic book-style name, Mr. Glass
  • Elijah’s mother comments, “They say this one has a surprise ending.” As does the film itself.
  • David wears a pseudo-cape: his rain poncho
  • Like many superheroes, David has a key weakness (water) and powers (strength, invincibility, a sixth sense)
  • The logo of the news station reporting the train wreck should look familiar to comic book fans: it is the same as the logo used by the Marvel superhero group The Fantastic Four. The logo can be seen during the news report shown on TV.
  • As in comic books, the main characters have their identified color schemes. David’s is green and Elijah’s is purple. They show up in their clothes, the wallpaper and bed sheets in their houses, Elijah’s note to David, and various personal items, among others.
  • Several important objects are introduced upside-down
  • Bruce Willis’s character is named David Dunn. It is very common for the “real” names of comic book heroes to be alliterative (for example, Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Matt Murdock, and Clark Kent).
  • Several scenes relating to the “Mr. Glass” character involve glass: as a newborn, he’s primarily seen reflected in mirrors; as a young child, he’s seen reflected in a blank TV screen; he leaves his calling card on the windshield of David Dunn’s car; he’s reflected in a glass frame in his art gallery; his walking stick is made of glass.

Groovy Quotes

Elijah Price: Now that we know who you are, I know who I am. I’m not a mistake.

Elijah Price: They called me Mr. Glass.David Dunn: I’m gonna ask you a question, and it’s going to sound a little weird, so just think about it. Do you remember me ever being sick?

Elijah Price: It’s hard for many people to believe that there are extraordinary things inside themselves, as well as others. I hope you can keep an open mind.

Elijah Price: It’s all right to be afraid, David, because this part won’t be like a comic book. Real life doesn’t fit into little boxes that were drawn for it.

ER Doctor: And, to answer your question, there are two reasons why I’m looking at you like this. One because it seems in a few minutes you will officially be the only survivor of this train wreck, and two, because you didn’t break one bone, you don’t have a scratch on you.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • The Sixth Sense
  • Signs
  • The Village

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