On the Aisle

by Max Carlson

Unbreakable is the latest work from acclaimed writer-director M. Night Shyamalan. It stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. Like Shyamalan’s last film The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable is wonderfully-crafted and well-acted, but it doesn’t come close to its predecessor. Audiences hoping to see a movie as good as The Sixth Sense may walk out of Unbreakable a bit disappointed.

The story is simple, but interesting. The movie opens with David Dunne (Willis) traveling home to Philadelphia by train. An attractive young woman sits next to him and he casually hides his wedding ring in his pocket. Right away we can tell that he is a sad and lonely man with a failing marriage. The train suddenly derails, killing every passenger onboard except David. He returns home, quiet and confused. As the story unfolds, David begins to realize he has never in his life suffered an injury or been sick. We are then introduced to Elijah (Jackson) a brittle-boned comic book art dealer who learns of the derailing incident and dedicates himself to helping David discover his gift. Elijah and David are parallel to each other, one being fragile and the other indestructible. I thought this was a clever idea, but they didn’t play off it enough. The rising and settling conflict between David and his wife, Megan (Robin Wright Penn), is a good side story but a bit slow-paced. When David finally does accepts the truth that he is unbreakable, he becomes the superhero of the next generation (no shimmering red cape though, just an old rain poncho). He uses his power to help others and to do good. The only problem is that he doesn’t do it enough making him kind of a shabby superhero.

There is some suspense, but no one will be on the edge of their seats. Instead, people will be shifting in their seats waiting for the film’s climax which never comes. Like in The Sixth Sense, there is a surprise ending, but it isn’t nearly as devastating.

Still, Shyamalan’s direction is worthwhile considering that not too many directors would be able to tackle a subject like this and make it work. One of the best things about this movie is the cinematography by Eduardo Serra with its dark tones, gloomy shades of gray, and sweeping camera angles. It may actually be better than The Sixth Sense in terms of cinematography. There are some aspects in Unbreakable that can be found in The Sixth Sense—the long pauses in the dialog as well as the dark and moody atmosphere. Plus, the stories are somewhat similar—a character has a strange supernatural power and uses it for good.

Unbreakable is not a bad film; it just isn’t a smash hit. After all, it’s hard to follow a movie like The Sixth Sense with something as exceptional. I still think Unbreakable is worth a look. We can expect more (and perhaps better) films of this genre from M. Night Shyamalan for it is by this style of filmmaking that he wants his audiences to remember him.

Max Carlson studies music and cinema at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

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