Smart, subtle & subversive, Unbreakable is a masterly crafted, deftly layered & thematically rich story that deconstructs the superhero mythology unlike anything before it, or since. A criminally underrated example of its genre that was poorly marketed as something it was not at its time of release and thus was misinterpreted by most, it is one of the finest origin stories of a superhero ever illustrated on the film canvas.
Set in Philadelphia, the story of Unbreakable follows a security officer looking for meaning in his life while his marriage is on the verge of falling apart. But his life changes the day he is caught in a train accident yet sustains no injuries. After being approached by a comic book art gallery owner who presents his far-fetched theory regarding his miraculous survival, he begins to test his limits and learns something extraordinary about himself.
Written & directed by M. Night Shyamalan (best known for The Sixth Sense), Unbreakable offers a unique take on the whole superhero formula and approaches it from a totally different perspective, asking questions that hadn’t been posed before and opting for something much more meaningful than the mindless action-adventure elements that most examples of its genre prefer to choke on. Add to that, it is firmly rooted in reality.
Shyamalan’s writing is just as accomplished here as his astute vision & first-rate direction. Despite belonging to a different category, the film crawls with a sense of apprehension that was evident in his previous flick and the plot is highly character-driven. What’s remarkable about his script is that it is patient, as Shyamalan takes his time to set up the narrative & the lives of the people inhabiting it, and is more interested in examining the characters than their actions.
The technical aspects are no slouch as all the elements are wonderfully balanced & work together in harmony to silently uplift the look & feel of the story. Its staging of shots, fluid camerawork, still movements, desaturated colour palette, moody texture & apt lighting brim with layers after layers of intricacy that reveals more on every subsequent viewing. The slow pace allows for much better introspection, and James Newton Howard contributes with a score that’s as fitting as it is memorable.
Coming to the acting department, Unbreakable features fabulous leads in Bruce Willis & Samuel L. Jackson, with Robin Wright in supporting role, and all of them chip in with excellent performances. The characterisation part itself is so expertly handled in the script that it provides a solid platform for the actors to build their act upon, and although Jackson goes a little overboard at times, Willis delivers with a very low-key & down-to-earth input that easily ranks amongst his finest on-screen performances.
On an overall scale, Unbreakable is one of the most clever & original ideas to grace its genre and is every bit worthy of the strong cult following it has garnered over the years. A remarkable feat that explores the comic book archetypes with its distinct visual style & unconventional narration, the film makes more sense in today’s age of big-budget, effects-driven & spectacle-laden superhero blockbusters than it did at its time of release, and its relevance will continue to grow in the years to come. Undeniably amongst the most underappreciated works of 21st century cinema and certainly one of the best comic book films in existence, Unbreakable isn’t just M. Night Shyamalan’s finest directional effort that was far ahead of its time but may as well be his magnum opus. Thoroughly recommended. Multiple viewings advised.