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UNBREAKABLE

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (2000, Touchstone Pictures)
Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robin Wright Penn

A man who cannot seem to get hurt is haunted by a fragile man into thinking he may be a comic superhero.

 

 

2 stars

September 2nd, 2001 on Video  
    I think there was a pretty good story in there somewhere, but it was marred by a director who wanted to turn it into "art" and an actor who seems to have forgotten how to act.

The main problem with this movie, I think, was Bruce Willis. When he walked around like a zombie in The Sixth Sense, at least he got to bounce his lines off that wonder-child, Joel Haley Osment. When walked around like a zombie in The Story of Us, I hated him. Now, he does it again. He is completely emotionless, even when he's strangling a man to death! The only time he showed some emotion was when his son pointed the gun at him, trying to prove that he was superhuman.

Samuel L. Jackson did a pretty good job portraying the obsessed man who is looking for a superhero. I only wish somebody had done something with his hair. He looked too much the obsessed part. But he fell into some of the same traps that Willis did. Mind you, he was supposed to look like a zombie in the wheelchair in the comic store. 

So I think the biggest problem actually lies with the director. From the very beginning, I knew this was going to turn into a stylistic thing, but I hoped the characters and story would stand on their own in spite of that. Why must we start every scene in a mirror, or upside down? What was he trying to prove with the scene on the train, moving the camera first to peek around at Willis, then moving to peek around the other chair at the woman he is sitting beside, talking to? It was just plain annoying. I also think it was the director's fault that none of the characters showed any real emotion. Even Robin Wright Penn, so good in Message in a Bottle, looked very flat. Every performance here was flat.

And when it comes to the "sudden revelation", it doesn't work nearly as well as the same moment did in The Sixth Sense, by the same director. I guessed it as soon as Elijah asked to shake David's hand. He was the one responsible for the bombings and the train derailment. He was searching for his superhero, but was not content to let nature reveal it to him. He had to accelerate the matter by taking it into his own hands. That just makes him more villainous. It is not really a big shock. And to have writing after the action, telling us that David told the police about Elijah, so they arrested him and sent him to a psychiatric hospital; did that really add to the story? Was it an afterthought, because it really seemed like it to me. 

The actual events of the movie were rather nondescript. David, returning from somewhere, survives a train derailment, which has no other survivors. This brings him to the attention of Elijah, who was born with broken bones, and is so fragile that he can barely do anything without hurting himself. But David has not a scratch on him. They talk, and talk, and talk some more. Elijah joins David at his job as a security officer at a college football stadium. There, it is revealed that David gets flashes of knowledge whenever he touches somebody. He knows when someone is carrying a gun into the stadium, he knows when another person has been carrying drugs (but doubts himself when he can't find the drugs on that person, for some unknown reason -what are we supposed to think, that sometimes he is wrong?). 

When lifting weights, he and his son discover that he can lift almost four hundred pounds. So his son goes out of his way to prove that his father is a superhero, and takes the gun into his hand. David plays upon his son's insecurity and gains control of the gun, but this drains him, and he tells Elijah never to call him again. 

There is a small subplot where it's found out that David was in a car accident with his then-girlfriend, and he was injured, so he could never play football again. When we discover that his wife could never have continued dating a man who played football, it is obvious that he faked the injury. But the look on his face when the man asks him if he was hurt (in a flashback) indicates that this was a conscious decision, when in fact it could not have been. David has been lying to himself all these years about that "injury", and is convinced that it was real. The look on his face indicates he was choosing his course for the future. Not so.

It is brought up that water is his kryptonite, since he nearly drowned as a child. But when he falls into a pool during the rescue, he is wrapped up in the pool cover, completely twisted around. Even a good, calm swimmer would have had a lot of trouble getting out of there, even with the help of a rescue rod. But here was a man who panics at the thought of going into the water, and he has convinced himself that water is anathema to him. Still, he manages to get out and fight a man! He didn't even swallow any water! Wow! Water is obviously not as bad for him as we were led to believe.

The climax of the movie comes when David decides to be a secret superhero. He walks into Philadelphia's central station, and stands still, letting people brush against him. He discovers one man who killed another and tied up the wife and children, and is living in the family's house. He discovers the man and wife dead, but rescues the two girls, and kills the intruder (at least that's what we are led to believe). Wouldn't his fingerprints be all over the place? Why not put the man unconscious (I'm sure I heard the snap of a neck), and leave him for police, the way Spiderman used to do? Anyway, he gets an anonymous drawing of him in the paper the next day, and only admits to his son that it was him. I actually liked that silent exchange between him and his son at the breakfast table. It was very nice.

He restarts the failing relationship with his wife that night, as he no longer feels like his life is going nowhere, and the next morning, when he goes to thank Elijah, he discovers what the other man has done. 

I think this could have been a really cool story. I can see traces of where this could go, if only it was given a proper chance. But the director decided to go the route that he thought would be more spooky, letting people be hollow shells, and leaving scenes without music (except for the sappy "superhero" music as David climbs out of the pool, or is lifting weights). That wasn't creepy at all. It was just boring. But there was potential, so much potential, and that is why I can still recommend the movie, if only barely. 
 
   

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