Sun 7 Dec 2014
UNBREAKABLE. Touchstone Pictures, 2000. Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark. Screenwriter & director: M. Night Shyamalan.
This was director Shyamalan’s followup to his massively successful The Sixth Sense, which I’ve never seen, but no matter. The reason I wanted to see this one was the presence in the film of Samuel L. Jackson, who always turns in a riveting performance, no matter how good or how bad the rest of the film is.
And Unbreakable is no exception to that statement, if not a rule. Whenever he’s on the screen, as the tormented victim of a brittle bone disease, all eyes are on him, an angry black man (with reason) teetering on a cane that looks as though it will barely hold him. As a lover of comic books and comic books heroes — and an early flashback shows why that is so; how the love of comic books got him through his childhood — he knows that there has to be someone on the other end of the spectrum, perhaps even unknowingly.
And that someone just might be David Dunn (Bruce Willis), an ordinary guy, a stadium security guard by occupation, who just happens to be the only survivor of a horrific train accident. Over a hundred other passengers died; Dunn comes out of it without a scratch.
Dunn, as I say, is an ordinary guy, with a semi-estranged son and a marriage that is definitely on the rocks, but … he’s never been sick in his life, as Elijah Price (Jackson) reminds him. Could he have superpowers and have never have known it until now?
As I say, I’m a fan of Samuel L. Jackson, and I still am, but Unbreakable has convinced me that I hadn’t bother seeing another film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, whose directorial abilities I find to be of the flamboyant “look at me, I’m directing” variety, beginning with the very first scene, with Dunn talking earnestly to a young female reporter on the seat next to him on the doomed train. Their conversation is filmed through the separation between the seats in front of them, both awkward and obvious.
As a storyteller, he is no better — not to my mind anyway, speaking as someone who would like to have scenes mean something, not randomly inserted in a portentous manner, but never followed up on or extremely unlikely to happen in the first place, such as Dunn’s son threatening to shoot him with a gun, to prove that his father does indeed have superpowers.
As for the surprise ending, I left the theater asking myself just what it was that happened. It did and did not make sense at the time, and while I’m a lot more aware of what I had missed, I think my mind stopped working when I realized that a lot of the movie didn’t make a lot of sense, was weird only for weirdness’ sake, and I failed to take in scenes that were important, and I just didn’t realize that here at last was something that was essential and I really shouldn’t have missed it.
The movie is still worth watching, though. It was quite popular at the time it was first released, perhaps as a carryover from The Sixth Sense, with which Unbreakable has some strong similarities. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.