Writer and director of The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan, is back with a film equally as engrossing, well-paced and seductive. Unbreakable’s main downfall, perhaps, is that it follows hot on the heels of such a smash; as such, it has an impossible lot to live up to. Expectations aside, however, and Unbreakable holds its own as a beautifully spare, melancholy and well-crafted film.
The first scene opens with security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) chatting up a woman on a Philadelphia-bound train; despite his politeness, she’s spooked and changes seats. There’s a sense of spying given to the scene, which is framed between the two seats in front of them; it’s a device that’s employed on numerous occasions throughout the film.
Willis is again in a role to which he brings complexity and restrainedness; he’s likeable and at the same time he’s not, having attempted to cheat on his wife.
The train later crashes, and Dunn is the sole survivor. Things aren’t going well in his life: he’s having major marital problems; life just doesn’t seem satisfying; and now he has to somehow give meaning to his strange escape from death.
Then a note left on his windscreen asks him how many days he has been sick in his life. He tracks down the writer of the note, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who has suffered from a disease that makes his bones incredibly brittle from birth. Elijah’s mother encouraged him to participate in the world by getting him to read comics. As an adult comic book art-dealer, Elijah has come to develop a theory: that if someone as fragile and close to death as he is exists, perhaps there is someone at the other end of the spectrum, someone invincible, a real-life version of a superhero.
Dunn resists, but slowly comes to realize that there is truth in what Elijah says. One of the most genuinely amusing scenes in cinema here in Bangkok for some time has to be when Dunn and his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) realize together that he does possess incredible strength. "You know what to do if something goes wrong," Dunn says a he lifts a remarkably heavy weight over his chest. "Get Mom," replies Joseph solemnly.
As Dunn begins to accept his potential power – and dons an over-the-top hooded jacket that reads ‘Security’ across the back – Dunn’s wife Audrey Dunn (Robin Wright Penn) decides that she wants to give their marriage another go. Her performance is as faultless and riveting as that given by the other actors, but their relationship is perhaps not as fleshed out as is it could be. She remains unaware of his newfound powers, while an emotional Joseph is let in on the secret.
The inevitable twist is not as satisfying as that offered in The Sixth Sense. While The Sixth Sense offers magic that’s unbelievable, Unbreakable offers a neat twist that’s both clever and unbelievable. Without the magic, audiences might not be as willing to suspend their disbelief – it’s devastating news they’re given rather than anything uplifting. Forget The Sixth Sense though, and Unbreakable is a mournful and haunting film in its own right.