By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Split is still steamrolling box offices and gobbling up critical praise, but perhaps the biggest reveal of the film is how it integrates with a previous M. Knight Shyamalan film.
Unbreakable stars Bruce Willis as the sole survivor of a horrific commuter train crash, who is approached by a mysterious art dealer with a rare bone condition, Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). This man tells him that he may be something more- a real-life superhero.
What is most impressive about Unbreakable is how Shyamalan approaches the superhero movie motif from a human perspective. How would an everyman deal with a growing realization that he’s different than the rest? How would his family cope? This approach is what the high calorie/low nutrition filmmaking of Marvel and DC seems to be lacking, even at its best, and makes Split all the more exciting as a potential stepping stone to Shyamalan being the one to take it there.
I believe, again.
Bruce Willis was still trying at this point, and this reminds you what he can do when he tries. Like in the original Die Hard, Unbreakable really takes advantage of his relative normalcy, a corrective to the massive man-beasts of 80s action filmmaking there, and a corrective to the massive toned humans who’ve lead superhero movies here. He allows the audience to experience this vicariously through him, instead of being put at a distance by alien-seeming demigods, human or not.
Samuel L. Jackson also has a plum role as his opposite in many ways, a man whose bones are so frail he’s in constant peril of, well, breaking. He’s both sinister and sympathetic, proud and vulnerable, a difficult line to walk, but one he does with aplomb.
Unbreakable really is M. Knight Shyamalan’s best. He shows himself here as a confident visual storyteller with a clear love for Hitchcockian plot structuring, yes, but also some semblance of Hitchcocks’s facility with visual storytelling supplementing the plot mechanics. Instead of trying to replicate a comic book world in a screen one, his strong use of splashes of comic-book color against the drabness of everyday life integrate the two. For my money, yes, this is the best comic book film there is.
If there’s any weakness here, it’s the domestic drama subplot that runs concurrent to much of the storyline, as Willis and wife Robin Wright are at a point where they’re not sure whether they’ll continue their marriage. Both are quite good in these scenes, particularly Wright, who knows something’s wrong and distancing but can’t put her finger on the source, and Shyamalan treats it deftly, like the opening scene in which Willis slips his wedding ring off when an attractive woman sits next to him on the train, and it does build to a pay off that warrants its inclusion. Still, though, the scenes that comprise it always seem to slow the film down, tamp down it’s acceleration a bit.
Unbreakable showed what M. Knight Shyamalan was capable of in his prime, an engaging character piece wrapped up in compelling genre trappings. Here’s hoping he has his touch back now with Split.
Unbreakable (2000) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for comic books
Take a Drink: for broken bones
Take a Drink: for flashbacks
Take a Drink: for every weight added during the weight bench scene
Take a Drink: for Crime Vision
Do a Shot: for The Twist, of course