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Unbreakable: how writing this film review broke me

01/02/2001. Contributed by Stephen Hunt

Buy Unbreakable in the USA - or Buy Unbreakable in the UK

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These days I divide movies into two classes. There's the FX-driven eye candy like Phantom Menace, all colour and speed. Then there's the movie's with plot, the ones that surprise you, the ones that disturb you. The ones that are far fewer on the ground.

Unbreakable is definitely one of the latter.

It's been two days seen I have seen the film, and it still sneaks up on me in quiet moments, playing back in front of my mind in slow interludes on the train commute or during drawn-out office meetings.

It is, quite literally, a little disturbing.

The basic plot is this. There's an ex-jock David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis, who has a life that isn't exactly going anywhere.

His wife wants them to split up, his job as a security guard at the football stadium just reminds him of the pro-football career he had to give up after a car crash. In short, he is unfulfilled and slightly sad, haunted by all the could-have-beens of his life.

Then fate intervenes. He's coming back from New York after a job interview when his train derails and he is the sole survivor of the crash. Not only that, but he strolls away without a scratch.

This is almost unexplainable, as he realizes later in the movie, walking through the evidence shed containing the wreckage of the train cars. His own carriage is little more than a melted, twisted wall of steel.

One man with an explanation, though is Elijah Price, played by Samuel L Jackson. You see parts of Elijah's life in flashbacks, from birth through childhood. Sadly, Price has a rare brittle bone disease.

If he even knocks into a table, his arms can break.

One of the movie's early disturbing moments is Elijah's premature birth, in a 1960s department store, where the doctor called to the scene realizes that all the baby's legs and arms have been snapped and fractured just by his birth.

Taunted by the other children, called Mister Glass for his weird body, poor old Elijah retreats into the colorful world of comic-books.

Hey, excepting the rare bone-disease, most of us have been there, right?

When we catch up with Price in the modern day, he is a successful art gallery owner, specializing in the original art from comics - from Batman to the Fantastic Four. He takes it seriously too, far beyond mere obsession.

When Elijah Price tracks down our Willis, he explains his theory. Comics contain a hidden meaning, a truth, that superheroes really do walk the Earth, and Bruce Willis is one of them.

He is an 'unbreakable', a genetic mutant with the same disease as Price, except on the opposite end of the scale. His bones can't snap. He can't get sick. And can anyone say Wolverine minus the claws?

Willis's security guard third-sense, where he can scan a crowd queuing to get into the stadium and pick out the ones carrying concealed weapons is just a manifestation of what gets exaggerated in comics as x-ray vision.

At first Bruce Willis thinks that the crippled Price is off his trolley, but slowly as the film progresses, he starts to believe that perhaps Price's theory holds water, and he is indeed a superhero.

Made by the same crew as the film The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable has the same edgy, bleak film editing as a horror movie. Forget the colourful pop escapism of underpants-over-trouser movies like Batman and the X-Men, this is a dark, slow and tense experience.

One nod to the world of comics Unbreakable apes, are some scenes that could have come straight from the pages of Miller's original Dark Knight; particularly the clever cutting of Willis's security guard's rain cheater to make it look like a cape moving around his body, a shadow given life.

As one friend told me the weekend before I saw the film: "It's a good film; gloomy, though; you'll get more out of it if you are a comic-book fan; and I won't tell you the ending because it's a surprise and you'll never see it coming."

It is. And you won't.

Definitely one you should see yourself, but not when you are in the mood for some eye-candy cheer.

And next time I answer my door to a stranger, I'll definitely have the chain on the door.

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