review by Gregory Avery, 24 November 2000
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
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."
M. Night Shyamalan
Samuel L. Jackson
Spencer Treat Clark
Robin Wright Penn