Unbreakable (M. Night Shyamalan, 2000)
[originally posted 5Dec2001]
Okay, people, get over it: M. Night Shyamalan may never make another film as good as The Sixth Sense. Very few people, especially those trapped in the Hollywood machine, may ever make another film as good as The Sixth Sense. So comparing Unbreakable to The Sixth Sense is probably not the best of ideas.
Not that that will stop me.
Unbreakable is the story of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the only survivor of a nasty train wreck outside Philadelphia. After he leaves the hospital, he is approached by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who believes that Dunn may be the real-life equivalent of a comic-book hero, a guy who’s basically put on earth to protect the weak, get kittens out of trees, etc., etc. Looking at Dunn and the life he leads, it’s not exactly an easy concept to grasp; his wife (Robin Wright Penn) is estranged, though living in the same house; his kid (Spencer Treat Clark, last seen being Russell Crowe’s kid in Gladiator) is obsessively attached to him and lives in daily fear of the parents finally separating, and Dunn himself is a simple security guard at a fictional Philadelphia university (that looks suspiciously like UPenn). This guy is a comic book hero impervious to damage who’s going to save the small fry from the evil mastermind?
Comparisons to Shyamalan’s last film aside, it turns into a well-done story. Willis and Jackson, reunited for the first time since Die Hard with a Vengeance, have the same chemistry that made that turkey into something vaguely watchable, and everyone involved plays their parts to the hilt. Shyamalan sets everything up just so, and then lets the ball roll, and it rolls well.
Problem is, this film begs to be compared to The Sixth Sense. Not just because it’s Shyamalan and Willis, but because everything about it says Shyamalan was trying way too hard to reprise his earlier film. The red motif is replaced by a water motif that doesn’t go nearly as far, Spencer Treat Williams could be a stunt double for Haley Joel Osment, Shyamalan makes his cameo, etc. It just doesn’t have the same obsessive attention to detail that made The Sixth Sense such a wonderful experience, and so it doesn’t quite pull at the heartstrings as much. But it’s still a worthwhile movie, for what it is, that was unfairly bashed by many critics unwilling to see past the Shyamalan mystique. *** ½