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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Unbreakable

Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: November 2000
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, James Handy, Eamonn Walker, Elizabeth Lawrence, Leslie Stefanson

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable" is an ambitious effort - to deconstruct the myth that people may have special superhuman powers - but it fails to rise beyond that very notion. And yet, as evidenced by Shaymalan's previous effort, "The Sixth Sense," he has an uncanny ability to draw the audience in with precious directorial tools - atmosphere and subtle, introspective performances.

Bruce Willis, who also starred in "Sixth Sense," is a security guard named David Dunn who has just survived a catastrophic train crash. It is so catastrophic that everyone on board the train dies except for David. He does not have a single wound! How can this be? His wife (Robin Wright-Penn) does not recall a single day in their 12 year marriage where he ever got sick, much less suffered an injury. His idolizing son (Spencer Treat Clark) is worried about his father, arguing that he may have special powers to the point where he wants to show off his father's athletic ability to other kids. I mean, who on earth could survive such a train crash with nary a scratch?

Enter the cryptic Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic-book gallery owner who has a medical condition where the bones in his body are practically brittle - he was born with broken arms and legs and walks around with a purple cape and a glass cane! He looks like a comic book action hero! Price is interested in David's case, and assumes that David must have superhuman powers. After all, David is able to...oh, I would not dream of revealing much more than that.

"Unbreakable" is the psychological version of "X-Men," a supposedly analytical study of one man's amazing ability to survive tragic accidents that should otherwise leave him for dead. The problem is that Willis hardly engages us. He seems to walk around as if in a trance, virtually catatonic to the point of being a zombie. Wouldn't Willis's character, David, at least wonder why he survived the crash? And why his life seems indifferent considering there is the potential of a divorce from his wife? How about the scene where his son threatens to kill him with a gun? Wouldn't David feel any emotion about his curious condition and how it may be affecting others? The problem is that his wife seems to be in a bit of a daze herself over their marriage.

The nature of David's condition brings up all kinds of philosophical questions. I thought writer-director Shyamalan might invite us to ponder the answers but he refuses to. Once David discovers his gifts and abilities, the film shifts into a thriller-of-sorts where the madness of the world and its inhabitants shakes, rattles and rolls David. Unlike the underrated "Fearless" that dealt with how one comes to grip with surviving a tragedy, "Unbreakable" merely turns into a cartoonish version of itself, expunging all drama and tension for the sake of some minor thrills. The surprise ending is not so much a surprise as it is a hindrance, and we are thus left with more questions than answers. That is not necessarily a hindrance in itself (I do love unsolved puzzles) but here it is the result of an underwritten screenplay.

I will say that M. Night Shyamalan has a gift of his own - he knows how to appropriate the right kind of atmosphere and mood. There are superbly visceral moments of fear and dread, such as the scene where David walks among the families of the dead passengers who are perplexed at his survival, the train station scenes where David observes every person walking near him, and a precious moment between David and his son where words are silently exchanged.

There is a lot to admire in the choice of actors. Leaving out Willis's zombie state, I loved the electric presence of Samuel L. Jackson - a truly unbreakable actor who is irresistible to watch. Robin Wright-Penn does not have much to do in a relatively thankless role but there is some compassion and humanity in her character. Spencer Treat Clark is no Haley Joel Osment but he does have some affecting scenes of his own.

"Unbreakable" is often fascinating and haunting but its central lead character walks through the film in such a daze that you wish someone would break him.

Copyright 2000 Jerry Saravia

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