Film Review - "Unbreakable"
Howdy y'alls! Well, it's Saturday already. This week has been so busy for me and I'm sure you can probably relate when I say that this whole Christmas season is just plain hectic!
Last night my brother, dad and I watched Unbreakable. It's one of my dad's favorite films so it wasn't the first time we'd seen it. I've been immersed in film production, screenwriting and story/plot creation for the past several months, and, since I am always one of the heaviest film critics in our family...during the film when nobody wants a running commentary...I decided I would save the critique for an official review.
Unbreakable is a rather unique work in many aspects. It has been called one of the top ten superhero films of all time. You might be thinking, oh whatever, just another cliche' ridden movie overflowing with daring, (not to mention unrealistic) escapades and said superhero always saving the day.
Prepare for a surprise, then. What makes Unbreakable different than your run-of-the-mill action/thriller flick with masked marvels zipping about the universe, beating up the bad guys and pretty much always securing a happy ending?
(Warning - contains spoilers)
David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis) is a Philadelphia security guard, struggling with figuring out what his purpose in life is. At one point in his prior life he had been a college football player, and was quite passionate about his promising career. Then he met Audrey, who stole his heart...so much, in fact, that he decided to give up football and get married. (Audrey hated the sport - it was the only thing keeping the two lovers apart)
Fast forward to the present. David and Audrey are past the days of being enamored with each other. Sadly, their relationship is in a precarious situation and their marriage dissolving. This, as can be expected, is highly distressing to their young son, Joseph.
Returning from a job interview in New York, David is the sole survivor of a terrible train wreck--out of the 132 passengers, he alone walks out of the hospital alive...and what's more incredible, completely unharmed.
Not a scratch, bruise or fractured limb. Nothing.
Of course, as David realizes, throughout his entire life, he has never sustained an injury of any sort. Once, as a child, he had caught pneumonia, that was from nearly drowning in a pool. Beyond that...he has never been hurt.
Two other accidents have occurred in his lifetime, in which, he was once again the only survivor.
Enter Elijah Price (played by Samuel L. Jackson). At birth, he was diagnosed with a rare disease in which bones break quickly. Quite opposite to David, he is weak, fragile and labeled the title "Mr. Glass". He too is unsure of his purpose in life.
Elijah contacts David, who proposes that he (David) is a real instance of the kind of person after whom comic-book superheroes are modeled. David tries to ignore him, but Elijah stalks him and his wife, trying to get his attention. To relieve his family from further distress, David finally agrees to hear Elijah out, and begins to test himself. One day, while weight lifting with Joseph, they discover that his physical strength is far beyond what he previously thought. Joseph, struck in awe, begins to idolize his father and think him to be a superhero.
David is highly doubtful of the whole concept but at the same time, you can tell he is thinking about the possibility. Over time, he discovers that, besides possessing incredible physical strength, and even being potentially invincible, he also holds another strange yet incredible ability. When he touches someone, even brushes into them a little bit, he is able to glimpse immoral acts they've committed.
Eventually, influenced by Elijah, he goes to a train station and tracks down an evil janitor who is holding a family hostage in their own home. He rescues the children and strangles their captor.
What's fascinating about this story is that David is just an ordinary guy, setting aside his extraordinary abilities. Throughout the film, he reacts with disbelief to any concept of himself being superhero-like. He doesn't take his strength and use to to bring glory to himself. His character is certainly not perfect, but he does seem to posses a level of humility.
The cinematography was brilliant. I loved the director's choices in angles and lighting. What is clever, is his use of taking particular scenes and creating a very subtle superhero effect...e.g., in many scenes, it is raining and David is wearing a trench coat-length rain coat. Filmed at certain angles, his coat seems to mimic a cape, and his hooded face seemed to appear superhero-like in the shadows. I also liked the use of filming through glass or reflections, whenever "Mr. Glass", a.k.a. Elijah was in the picture. Technique wise, this film was rich and multi-fold. It is a film in which you need to pay close attention to details. What's happening in the foreground of the shot. Film angles. The music.
Ah, yes, the music! One of my favorite things to examine in films in the score. I was not too particularly impressed with James Newton Howard's work in Unbreakable, however, that is probably because I am a fan of the more dramatic, bold scores such as used in The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc. In some films, however, subtle and minimalist is needed. Unbreakable is one of those films. JNH's work fit this movie perfectly. There is so much subtle detail in the film and even the main character himself is subtle.
I do have a favorite track of the score, and that is "Visions". It is a cool, metropolitan beat which fits its accommodating scenes perfectly. (listen to it here)
Setting aside the music, and videography details, I will warn you, as with many cinematic works these days, there are a lot of negative elements in Unbreakable.
This is not a film for children. We had to fast-forward a scene which was sexually explicit. There are instances of using both God and Jesus' names in vain, not to mention some cuss/curse words thrown in the mix throughout the film. There is also some violence, as David beats up the sadistic janitor and strangles him.
It is implied that the childrens' parents were murdered by the janitor, their bodies are shown briefly.
One of the more disturbing elements of the film, to me, was David's ability to see sins and wicked/immoral deeds committed by people he touched. What made it disturbing? Well, the fact that they show us what those deeds actually are. He bumps into a woman and sees that she stole from a jewelry shop. This is minor compared to the visions he sees of the janitor and a rapist. (The latter, was the scene we had to fast-forward through) Obviously this whole concept of seeing people's hidden sins is foolishness since only God can see our inner heart and secret deeds.
Other parts which were negative included a scene where Joseph, convinced his father truly is invincible, picks up a loaded gun and almost shoots David, trying to prove that his father would not die if shot. David ends up threatening to leave for New York if the boy shoots, and manages to get the gun out of his hands.
In the beginning of the film, on the train home from the New York interview, a mid-drift showing woman sits down in the seat next to him and he removes his wedding ring, obviously interested in the woman. I found this disturbing, how quick he would throw away his marriage for somebody else, if he could. He does end up creeping the woman out, and she finds a new seat, he never sees her again because soon after the train derails and he's the only survivor. But nonetheless, "the heart is exceedingly wicked". It was obvious, he would have liked to get a date with her.
So. My conclusion rests here. While there are both positives and negatives to this film, and scores of raw detail from the editing and cinematography to consider for the study of it alone, I cannot say I endorse it completely. In some ways it was a good film. But negative and sin tends to taint the picture quite heavily once it is thrown in the mix.
To cut to the chase, it's a unique story, with a unique cinematic presence. The photography itself was excellent. Some of the events which occur in the story, not so excellent. Oh, and the ending? Pretty surprising plot twist. I love surprise endings.
For a superhero movie, it was pretty good. Primarily, because it's not your average superhero movie.