Unbreakable

Laura Clifford
Robin Clifford

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) survives disasters unscathed while Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) has a disease that causes his bones to break at the merest provocation. These two men are opposites in more ways than that in "The Sixth Sense" writer/director M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable."

Laura:
A little bit "The Sixth Sense," a dash of "Fearless," and some "Batman" cooks up to M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" followup, "Unbreakable." While this outing may not hit the populist nerve of his last, it's more mythological and complex and should become more well regarded after repeated viewings.

David Dunn is returning from a job interview in NY when a pretty girl (Leslie Stefanson, "The General's Daughter") sits next to him. He twists off his wedding ring and begins his play, but ends up driving her away. Then he notices the train is going way too fast. Cut to a young boy (Spencer Treat Clark, "Gladiator") watching TV from upside down on a couch - a disastrous train wreck has just occurred outside of Philadelphia.

A doctor in ER questions David while in the foreground we see blood spread across the midsection of the only other (short-lived) survivor. 131 people have died and David Dunn has not a scratch. He's at a low point that's not just expicable by survivor's guilt, however. His marriage appears to be over - he was planning to move to New York alone if he got that security job.

Things take an odd turn after the memorial service for the victims, when he finds a note on his windshield embossed with 'Limited Edition' and a message inquiring if he's ever been sick. He traces the note to Elijah Price, a comic book art gallery owner with osteogensis imperfecta, a condition that causes his bones to break easily (we've already seen him born with broken arms and legs in a flashback, as well as a child whose mother has to coax him to the playground with gifts of collectible comic books).

Elijah suggests that they're polar opposites and that David is the real life embodiment of the superheroes written about from the time of the Egyptians through modern comics, a real protector of men. Elijah shows up at the local football stadium where David works as a security guard (a protector). David begins an entry frisk to cull out a suspected weapons carrier, who does indeed leave the line. David 'sees bad people,' and Elijah's words, even though David rejects them, are intensifying his talent. His son Joseph so wants to believe them that he pushes dad's workout until he's lifting 350 lbs. Audrey and David write off Elijah as a lunatic, yet begin to heal their marriage. But Elijah continues to push.

Shyamalan has loaded his screenplay with myths (good vs. evil), symbols (watch those color schemes (Mardi Gras colors - purple represents justice, green faith, and gold power), his usual spirtuality and character perspectives (upside down and reflected). There's also another twist ending, that, like his last film, make you want to go back and watch it again to fill in the blanks. He has weightier implications here, particularly regarding Joseph, who is paralled with Elijah in many ways. He even includes some in jokes ('They say this one has a surprise ending,' Elijah's mother tells him, 'They called me Mr. Glass," says the shatterable Elijah).

Bruce Willis again delivers a quiet, restrained performance as Dunn. He's good, if not as interesting as his "Sixth Sense" character, yet not surprisingly, is at his best when playing against his young costar, Clark. Samuel L. Jackson is more intriguing as the positively Dr. Strangelovian Elijah (the hair, the gloves, the wheelchair!). His intensity is mystifying but compelling. Again Shyamalan gets a solid performance out of a three-name child actor, although Clark isn't in Osment's league. Robin Wright Penn is in reactive whisper mode. Charlayne Woodard ("The Crucible") is sympathetic, dynamic and strong as Elijah's mother, aging thirty years through the course of the film.

The film is well shot and editted, deliverying terrific sound (you'll cringe when Elijah falls down subway stairs, breaking bones along the way, or when Shyamalan delivers one of his jolting sound shock moments) by sound designer Richard King. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra ("The Hairdresser's Husband") uses interesting angles and long takes to bring Shyamalan's vision to fruition.

While "Unbreakable" doesn't quite hit one out of the park the way "The Sixth Sense" did, it's clearly the work of a young master that gives its audience something to mull over long after they leave the theater.

B+

Robin:
David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is on a commuter train heading home for Philadelphia after a none-too-successful security job interview in New York City. He flirts with and is rejected by a pretty young woman and sinks into his own doldrums. Just before arriving in Philly, the train goes out of control, jumps the track and all 131 passengers and crew are killed - except for David, who survives the wreck with nary a scratch. A mysterious, handicapped man, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who tells David that he is a very special person, a man who may be invincible, soon approaches him. The bemused David begins to delve into his apparent indestructibility and makes some shocking discoveries in director/writer M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable."

Helmer Shyamalan faces a tough battle with his follow up to the incredibly successful sophomore effort, "The Sixth Sense." (That film was the second largest grossing film in 1999, overshadowed only by "The Phantom Menace.") The director/writer wasted no time in creating a new mystery thriller that invites the viewer to pay close attention to the details of the story while still delivering a finale with a revelation that shocks. But, please, don't expect the stunning, unexpected ending of "The Sixth Sense." Shyamalan's follow on film effectively avoids a slump by weaving a different mystical tale.

David has survived the horrors of the train wreck with absolutely no damage to his body, but his mind is another thing. There is a part of David that he has never come to grips with and it has impacted his life in negative ways, including a failing marriage to Audrey (Robin Wright Pen). His only ray of hope is his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), who idolizes his dad. One day soon after the crash, David finds a note on his car that asks the question, "How many days have you been sick?" There is nothing else except for a company logo on the card. Dunn tracks down the company to find a very strange individual as the owner.

Elijah has suffered a lifelong affliction, osteogenesis imperfecta; a debilitating disease that makes his bones as frail as twigs. He has lived a careful, reclusive life and still suffered 54 breaks of his bones since he was a child. Elijah became, as a boy, with his mother's (Charlayne Woodard) help, an aficionado of action comic books and has delved into duality inherent in the hero/villain themes of the genre. He built a business based on the art of his beloved comic books and became obsessed with finding his dual, his opposite, in life. Elijah's thinking is that there must be someone to counter his own breakability. Is David the man he seeks?

Other heinous disasters have also taken place, recently, besides David's train wreck. Of the three life-snuffing accidents, David is the only one to survive - without a mark on him. Elijah makes David think back over his life and those things that may have harmed him. As Dunn digs into his past, he finds that events did not really play as they seemed and that his childhood "injuries" never happened. His is, truly, unbreakable. The question now becomes, what is David's purpose on Earth? The fragile Elijah, whose bones quite literally can break like glass, shows David that he has the ability to "see" wrongdoers and their deeds. This newfound "sight" gives David the chance to save a couple of children from a brutal death, proving to his son that he is a hero. Is he Elijah's comic book hero?

I won't talk anymore about the story so I don't give anything away. This is a mystery story and the viewer should be allowed the chance to figure it out. The good news is, though not as shocking a work as "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable" is an intelligent, well-executed mystical tale. Prepare yourself for rampant symbolism (and, unfortunately, at least one, extended product placement that I found annoying). The two-sides-of-the-same-coin relationship between David and Elijah also has elements of student and master. David is the bewildered, invulnerable hero figure to Elijah's flawed, but brilliant, advisor. But, yes, there is more. The comic book art as a binding device is interesting, especially for action comic fans, but it left me cold. I think an understanding of the graphic novel art form, as the director obviously has, will make you appreciate the film's intent a little more.

Technically, "Unbreakable" is solid. Photography by Eduardo Serra is key to the look of the film, capturing the moody, off-kilter, otherworldliness that Shyamalan strives to create. Production designer Larry Fulton, who did such subtle work on "The Sixth Sense," gets a chance at a more stylized locale in the world of Elijah Price. The starkly contrasted chrome-and-glass look combines beautifully with the costuming, from another Shyamalan collaborator, Joanna Johnston. (See Laura's review at www.reelingreviews.com/unbreakable.htm for a unique perspective on the film's costume/makeup.) The film carries a vaguely sinister look throughout that helps keep the story intact.

Screenwriter Shyamalan needs to get out more. His script is intelligent, yes, but also self-indulgent. He is having fun with the mystery, the look and the colors of the film and the film abounds with little in-jokes that the observant viewer will see and enjoy. He is an honest writer that does not go for the cheap shot to titillate the audience. I would like to see the helmer work with other filmmakers and spread his creative wings more.

Unfortunately for the actors, this is a story-intensive flick that requires the filmgoer to pay attention to the plot threads. As such, the thespians are required to live within their characters rather than develop them. Willis is conflicted as David Dunn and works hard to understand his real gift, though there is little emotion allowed to bubble through - except in one scene where Joseph tests David's new-found and incredible body strength. Samuel L. Jackson always brings his all, but, even he is overshadowed by the Gumby-hairdo and slick costume of Elijah. Clark does fine as the incredulous son, Joseph. He and Willis play well with each other, though the boy is not a Haley Joel Osment. Robin Wright Penn, as David's troubled wife Audrey, does well in the tough role of understanding wife.

"Unbreakable" should have a ready-made audience and do well at the box-office as the only "serious" film out right now. It will draw an after life on video and DVD for the fans who want to pick it apart and look for all the little nuances in the story. Enjoy the show. I give it a B.

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