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Review byMatthew Turner10/01/2001

Two out of five stars
Running time: 107 mins

M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to The Sixth Sense – an oddly muted comic-book fable that treads a fine line between ridiculous and profound.

Bruce Willis plays David Dunn, a security guard with a failing marriage, whose sole survival of a horrific train wreck prompts his wife Audrey (Robin Wright Penn) to give their marriage a second chance, much to the delight of their young son Joseph (played by yet another child actor with three names: Spencer Treat Clark). Willis’ unusual survival, however (he is completely unharmed), prompts the emergence of the mysterious Elijah Price (Jackson), a man with a rare brittle bone disease, who believes Dunn’s miraculous survival was no mere coincidence, and tries to convince him that he possesses superhuman powers…

The first thing to say about Unbreakable is that if you’re not prepared to accept the comic-book premise, then you’re unlikely to enjoy the film. Similarly, those expecting a repeat of The Sixth Sense’s supernatural chills and surprise twist ending, will also be disappointed – there is a twist at the end, but it’s entirely in-keeping with the film’s comic-book themes, and can be seen coming a mile off. The film opens with a set of statistics about comic-books in America, so the main ‘revelation’ of the film is telegraphed from the outset.

The first half of the film, then, is about Dunn first discovering, and then gradually accepting his ‘destiny’ as laid out for him by Price. This part of the film works well – it’s only later, when the actual super-heroics begin, that the film starts to fall apart. Certainly, the final twist, though ‘shocking’, doesn’t really bear close analysis and is more likely to annoy than anything else. That said, there is a fair bit to enjoy along the way. Shyamalan (who also wrote the script), has a nice eye for characterisation, and makes some interesting choices – for example, a scene on the train is shot from behind the seats in front of Willis, so it feels like you’re spying on him as he fails to chat up his seat companion. There are some excellent scenes later on, too – such as a shocking kitchen confrontation between Dunn and Joseph, and a horrifying scene in a swimming pool.

The acting is good, too. Willis reverts to the ‘bald and broody’ style of acting familiar from Pulp Fiction and 12 Monkeys, and banishes his trademark smirk, delivering a contemplative performance that works well. He’s ably supported by both Robin Wright Penn and Spencer Treat Clark, suggesting that Shyamalan’s true skill may lie in coaxing great performances from kids with three names. Jackson is impressive too, making the most of a stylish wardrobe and yet another bizarre hair-do. One question though: why would a man whose every stumble could land him in hospital for months carry a glass cane?

In general, then, this is worth seeing if you’re a comic-book fan or a hardcore Willis / Jackson fan. Otherwise, prepare to be either disappointed or oddly bemused, because this is a thriller without thrills, thoughtful rather than action-packed.

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Content updated: 16/09/2019 15:05

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