Comic books are destroying the youth of America—or so Unbreakable seems to say. The new movie by M. Night Shyamalan, writer and director of last year’s Oscar-nominated The Sixth Sense, suggests that, more than TV violence or rap lyrics, the superheroes and villains in comics are corrupting the minds of children with their eternal battles between good and evil. And in Unbreakable, one comic lover’s search for a superhero has dire consequences.
Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), owner of a comic-book gallery, suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that weakens bone density. His fragility has meant a lifetime in casts, completely immersed in comic book logic. Price believes that someone out there must be his exact opposite, unbreakable. When he hears of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the sole survivor of a train wreck who walked away unharmed, Price thinks he has found his hero. As it turns out, Dunn does have supernatural strength and a sixth sense. When he touches strangers, he can see their previous criminal acts—in other words, Dunn sees bad people. But in this instance, bad people—including a drug
dealer and a homicidal janitor—aren’t as scary as The Sixth Senses dead people.
Shyamalan skilfully draws out the film’s suspense, adding a few twists and turns— but nothing matching the originality of The Sixth Sense’s shock ending. And Jackson, adorned with a distracting, lopsided hairdo, is at this point in his career verging on caricature. In Unbreakable, he raises his trademark cool, calm voice to sternly lecture the unsuspecting—as he has done, with diminishing effect, in every role since Pulp Fiction. Willis, on the other hand, is even more subdued than he was in The Sixth Sense. Dunn was once a football star, but his spirit is now broken. He works security at the stadium, cowering inside his rain slicker—a postmodern superhero’s cape. Robin Wright Penn’s nuanced acting as Willis’s wife and Jacksons physical therapist strikes a balance between her co-stars, giving her role more importance than it was probably meant to have.
Shyamalan, under pressure to deliver another Oscar contender, was inevitably tempted by last year’s winning formula. But by recycling Willis’s performance and the mood of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable is unable to escape its shadow.
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