One of the more baffling career swerves in recent Hollywood history has to be that of M. Night Shyamalan. The man is known for having a career that started strong, he was considered a visionary, then with each new movie released with his name attached, his status fell. If there had been a graft of his movies showing the level of quality, he would have started in the mid to high level and then plummeted to the bottom, where The Last Air Bender rightfully rests. Really, it’s a shame, because I loved The Sixth Sense and enjoyed Signs despite it’s mixed reviews. He either lost sight, or never had it and was just lucky with a few movies. That being said, I will always enjoy the first three movies of his that I’ve seen. The aforementioned Signs and The Sixth Sense were both a blast, but today we’re talking about one that often is overlooked; Unbreakable.
Sixth Sense wasn’t M Night’s first movie, but it was the one that got peoples attention, it was his break. Shyamalan had proved that he could confuse and scare an audience while bringing in a ton of money at the same time. The next project he embarked on was Unbreakable, an homage to the comic book genre, with characters that weren’t actually from any comics. Bruce Willis plays security guard David Dunn. Dunn is a seemingly ordinary man, up until he becomes the sole survivor of a horrific train crash which he walks away from with not even a scratch. Dunn’s life is full of obstacles, so he’s not eager to investigate this strange addition. However, comic book enthusiast Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) makes it his personal duty to make Dunn look into his past and see if he perhaps shares some of the heroic supernatural tendencies of the characters that fill the pages that consume his life. Price suffers from a disease that renders his bones as brittle as glass; he’s fragile. Price has always wondered if he had an opposite, someone that was not fragile; someone that is unbreakable. Dunn reluctantly looks into this theory, along the way discovering more about himself than he anticipated.
The remarkable thing about Unbreakable, in regards to Shyamalan’s portfolio, is that it’s actually pretty great. He’s always had a thing for interesting coloring and whimsical cinematography, which is perfect for a film that’s supposed to look and feel like a comic book. He wrote an interesting origin story, one that never really delves too much into the actual theatrics that almost every hero gets caught up in. Rather, it’s an origin story about a man that’s just slightly above ordinary discovering himself and what responsibilities he must shoulder with his self discovery. The movie offers us a pretty fascinating character arc which seems minuscule at first, but on a second glance is simply subtle, which are two very different things. It’s a subtle arc that shows a flawed man, turn into a flawed man that realizes he is capable of carrying much more than he has been, both emotionally and physically. It’s a discovery of responsibility.
Shyamalan seems to strive in films where the pacing is slow enough for him to flesh out some interesting ideas. Later in his career he may have gotten sidetracked by over the top ideas and sacrificed the fiber of a good story for a cheap twist (arguably, he’s done this early in his career). Unbreakable is surprising because it’s both a comic book movie, and relatively slow paced; two traits that don’t go hand in hand. However, despite two opposing aspects, the film works. It’s as dark as a comic book movie should be, it tells an interesting story about a reluctant hero, and it’s done without many of the cliché comic book tropes of the time. Honestly, it’s a shame that a man capable of producing something of this caliber has become synonymous with the crappy movies he consistently comes out with. Well, here’s to the good old days, I guess.