Unbreakable
review by Gregory Avery, 24 November 2000

In Unbreakable, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan is again working in the same muted colours and hushed, rapt atmosphere that mesmerized audiences last year in The Sixth Sense. He is again working with Bruce Willis, who seems to respond particularly well under his direction. And Shyamalan shows an increasingly fine ability to work with young actors, with Spencer Treat Clark, playing the son of Willis' character this film, giving a performance that is just as good as Haley Joel Osment's in Shyamalan's previous film. How we're supposed to ultimately respond to Unbreakable, though, is another matter. (And if you're planning on seeing the film, stop here, and come back after you have done so.)

David Dunn (played by Willis),a Philadelphia security guard, emerges from a huge passenger train wreak not only as the sole survivor, but completely unharmed, as well. The incident somehow helps save his faltering marriage (Robin Wright Penn plays his wife). It also puts him in contact with another man (Samuel L. Jackson) who could be seen as the exact opposite of David: born with a genetic disorder that makes his bones extra-brittle, he's spent his entire life either recovering from injuries or trying to avoid them. Now, steeped in the world of comic book art and comic book heroes, he pursues David, trying to convince him that he should use his extraordinary abilities towards the benefit of others -- giving both their lives, um, "mythic resonance" in the process.

Willis' performance contains some of his best work in a while, with grace notes that compensate for the fact that, most of time, he has to be unremittingly somber. Shyamalan and cinematographer Eduardo Serra spend a lot of time revealing valleys and planes of melancholy and sorrow in Willis' face, even when there doesn't seem to be any particularly good reason to do so. Jackson's portentous line readings ("Now it begins.") and eccentric appearance -- wooly hair, outfits made of shiny fabrics with accents of royal blue -- as the mysterious stranger (named Elijah) don't make sense until the very last scene of the film, when Shyamalan springs his double-whammy ending.

As in The Sixth Sense, he waits until the last moment to drop in the last piece that makes the entire picture become clear. But he doesn't really follow through on his story concept, here. Either he should have gone full-speed-ahead and shown David and Elijah becoming the real-life equivalents of super-hero and arch-villain, or revealed the whole thing to be a fallacy. (Which it very well might be: while David is shown actually saving some people from becoming victims of a heinous crime, except for the train accident, and some heretofore unexplored psychic abilities, his ability at being impervious is never entirely put to the test.)

Instead, the picture falls, unconvincingly, right in the middle. It's too serious-minded to even enjoy as camp, even though you may very well feel like doing so after one of the characters refers to the story as taking place during "mediocre times."

Written and
Directed by:

M. Night Shyamalan

Starring:
Bruce Willis
Samuel L. Jackson
Charlayne Woodard
Spencer Treat Clark
Robin Wright Penn

FULL CREDITS

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