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Unbreakable
USA 2000
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Running time 107 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars


Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to his hugely successful  The Sixth Sense (1999) shares evident, crowd-pleasing aspects in common with that film, notably Bruce Willis in the lead, a prominent role for a pre-teen (Spencer Treat Clark as David’s son, Joseph) and a supernatural theme. It is as awful as its precursor was good.

David Dunn is the sole survivor of a major train wreck who is contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) an imperious gallery owner specializing in original comic book art.  Elijah who suffers from a rare bone disorder, Osteogenesis imperfecta, which makes his bones as brittle as glass tells David that they are polar opposites and that David, for all practical purposes, is ‘unbreakable”, a gift that that only super-heroes have.  Initially David thinks that Elijah is a crackpot but gradually he comes around to the eccentric point of view.

Shyamalan’s film is skillfully made with fine cinematography by Eduardo Serra's and with its doleful mood, embodied by Willis’s understated performance, and an intriguing, methodically-paced storyline it holds our attention as we wonder where it is leading. The trouble with it is in the answer to that question which is that it turns our hero into a superhero, a kind of Caped Crusader in security guard raincoat instead of a Bat Suit. Thus, to the accompaniment of James Newton Howard’s thundering triumphalist score and his awakened powers of extra-sensory perception not to mention exception physical strength, the once-diffident David saves the lives of couple of teenagers in a home invasion incident (although, unfortunately, not their parents). If this is a potentially interesting twist, the next wincingly awful scene, in which David confides to his son that he really is a superhero just like Elijah said (but don't tell Mom) robs it of that potential whilst the final scene in which Elijah morphs into a full-blown arch-villain punts it into the realm of the ridiculous.

Shyamalan shares with Steven Spielberg a very American strain of arrested development (indeed much of which, as Kevin Smith knows only too well, derives from the pernicious effects of comics on impressionable minds) and it is a matter of some mystery how they can at once be such skilled craftsmen and so chronically juvenile in what they choose to apply those skills to. The only consolation to this film's fall from grace is that it comes relatively late in proceedings meaning that most of what we see is engaging, with an especially winning showing from Samuel L. Jackson, kitted out like a back-up singer for James Brown. The same can’t be said for Robin Wright Penn of whom Shyamalan makes little use in the role of the neglected wife and mother.

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