Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Review by Matt Heffernan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It's been over a year since M. Night Shyamalan's directorial debut, The Sixth Sense, became a major success at the box office, making more than any other film of 1999 other than The Phantom Menace. I had no idea that it would be so successful, having seen it on its opening night, before the buzz really kicked in. I dismissed it as an awkward, forgettable thriller, but by virtue of its surprise ending, it left most of the country with an impression of brilliance. I'm giving Shyamalan another shot with Unbreakable to see if he could finally impress me. Maybe I was wrong about The Sixth Sense, and this supposed genius should now be apparent.
Bruce Willis reunites with Shyamalan to play David Dunne, a very much alive resident of Philadelphia. In fact, killing him proves to be quite difficult. While coming home from New York, his train was derailed, killing everybody on board except for him. He becomes a local curiosity not just because he's alive, but because he didn't even have a scratch on him.
While attending a memorial service for the victims of the accident, a card is left on his windshield. It's inside an envelope with a logo for "Limited Edition" on it, and it reads, "How many days of your life have you been sick?" He tracks the "Limited Edition" logo to a gallery of comic book art run by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who tries to convince David that his resistance to injury and disease is proof that he's a superhero.
Unbreakable does manage to overcome half of my major criticism of The Sixth Sense: an awkward exposition. This film has a much more elegant introduction, and the story was able to develop more organically. However, the other half remains: a ridiculous ending. It's a surprise, yet again, and it requires another huge shift of logic and makes the film look foolish.
I think the problem lies in the character of Elijah. The film tries to explain him away as somebody who is just obsessed with comic books, because of a bone disease that kept him laid up for most of his life. This not only explains his insistence of the superhero theory, but also the ending -- that is, if you buy this character in the first place. Of course, this is supposed to be a supernatural thriller and not some realistic drama. For that genre, it works reasonably well right up until the end.
So, in my opinion at least, Unbreakable is a better film than The Sixth Sense. For fans of the first film, they may be disillusioned by seeing the formula again, and they will reject this film as a rehash instead of recognizing it as a real improvement. Maybe another surprise ending is enough for them and everybody else, and Unbreakable will be another monster hit. Personally, I just hope that Shyamalan will continue to improve.
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan