After the overwhelming success of his Hollwood debut ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999), director M. Night Shyamalan came up with ‘Unbreakable’. The print was not so enthusiastically received by the press. In retrospect, you can say that the film was way ahead of its time, because the theme of the film is now very current. Namely superheroes.
In a short time, the cinemas were inundated with the adaptations of American cartoon characters such as ‘Spiderman’ (2002), ‘The Hulk’ (2003), ‘The Punisher’ (2004) and ‘Batman Begins’ (2005). But before the comic hype started, there was ‘Unbreakable’. This film is not based on an existing comic, but was conceived by director Shyamalan who also filmed his story himself. Unlike later comics adaptations, ‘Unbreakable’ does not focus on bizarre superpowers and life-threatening psychopathic villains.
In his distinctively stylish, slow manner, Shyalaman tells a story about a haunted person who discovers that he is ‘different’ from the rest. This person, David Dunn, is played by Bruce Willis. The American plays not without merit. Willis’ playing is modest and fits very well with the character he portrays. What is a shame is that Willis actually does the same trick as in ‘The Sixth Sense’. In the latter film he also plays a mentally damaged man in a similar role. But the trump card of this movie is the chemistry between Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. The two actors are well attuned to each other and bring out the best in each other. The strong acting is the beating heart of the print. The director realizes this all too well and gives his actors the space to shine.
The theme of the film gives the film a mysterious touch and keeps the viewer in suspense. There is something going on with the main characters, but what? The print only gives away little information about the actual motives of the characters, so that the viewer can puzzle for himself. ‘Unbreakable’ has become an intelligent film with an intriguing story. The plot is somewhat like writer Alan Moore’s classic ‘Watchmen’ comics. These stories also deal with the theme of superheroes in a raw, more realistic way. So there are no typical heroes, only people with their bad and good sides. Although more attention is paid to the dark side of the person behind the superhero. Director Shyalaman has clearly been influenced by Moore’s comics.
Shyalaman skillfully builds up the tension, but cannot prevent the print from collapsing from time to time, because the narration rate is too slow to be continuously fascinating. Not much happens in this movie and the character building takes a lot of time. Impatient viewers will drop out. But the go-getters are rewarded with an old-fashioned exciting film in which not the special effects but the main characters are central. Completely in the tradition of Shyalaman’s earlier and later films, a shocking and unexpected ending has also been edited into the print.