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A Special Fate

Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson star
in another intriguing film
from M. Night Shyamalan

Bruce Willis in Unbreakable


Reviewed by John Orr

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

M. Night Shyamalan so impressed Bruce Willis when they made "The Sixth Sense" together that Willis agreed to act in Shyamalan's next film before he even knew what it was about.

Smart decision.

"The Sixth Sense" was brilliant, creative and surprising, and made the most of Willis' limited skills as an actor.

"Unbreakable," Shyamalan's next film, makes even more of Willis as an actor — really, he's quite good in it — and while it is not as great a piece of work as "The Sixth Sense," it is still intriguing and surprising, and has its odd but interesting concept to deliver.

Willis is playing David Dunn, whom we meet while he is on a train ride back to Philadelphia after a job interview in New York. He is earnest but sad to the point of creepiness, and scares away a woman with whom he pathetically tries to flirt.

In this part of the film, Shyamalan and his director of cinemaphotography, Eduardo Serra, beat us over the head with camera movement. Only a very few directors have ever been able to do that without making themselves look stupid. But here, it works. They are slapping us around and telling us they are in charge, and are going to involve us in something unusual. And they do.

The train speeds up to a scary speed and everything goes bright and the next thing we know, Dunn is waking up in the hospital, the only survivor of a horrific crash. He isn't even scratched, although his clothes don't look like they had a good time of it.

Robin Wright Penn, Bruce Willis Dunn goes on with his life. His wife Audrey, played with her usual excellence by Robin Wright Penn, is sleeping alone in the master bedroom, while Dunn is sharing sleeping space with their son Joseph, played by Spencer Treat Clark. Dunn and Audrey are cordial and respectful with each other, but are keeping their distance.

Is that why he is sad all the time? We don't know.

Dunn and Audrey both meet up with the significantly strange Elijah Price, played by the great Samuel L. Jackson.

Elijah was born — in a department store — with an osteopathic problem. His arms and legs are broken in his passage through the birth canal, and that is just a start of a lifetime of broken bones for the child and man who becomes known as Mr. Glass.

Bruce Willis, Samuel L. JacksonAs a child, with the support of a loving mother well played by Charlayne Woodard, he becomes a great fan of comic books, and eventually becomes a gallery owner dealing in comics art.

For years, Elijah has been reading the news of horrible disasters, looking for one with one, uninjured survivor. When he reads about Dunn, he is sure he has found his exact opposite — somone who cannot break.

Comic books, you see, have heroes who have enemies who are their exact opposites.

He tells Dunn that Dunn was born to be a superhero.

Dunn at first thinks Elijah is nuts, but events begin to show him that maybe, just maybe, Elijah is right.

After all, what adult wants to be a freak-of-nature superhero?

DVD notes

A ton of extra material, involving a second disc. Lots of Shyamalan talking about what he had in mind, Willis talking, Jackson talking, producers talking. Shyamalan explains his thinking about comic books, comic story telling and "The Twilight Zone." There is a featurette of interviews with comic-book artists and experts talking about how that genre has developed and mutated. There is an extended scene we can watch as presented in the film, with score and sound effects, or just with score, or just with sound effects. There are seven deleted scenes, and a fight sequence from one of Shyamalan's adolescent films. Buy it, don't rent it, to see the "collectible Alex Ross" illustrations and the booklet. A few other features, too.

Still, somehow it's all tied in to Dunn's entire life history, and definitely has something to do with the sadness he wakes up with every day.

Bruce Willis, Samuel L. JacksonThere are action sequences, bits of extra sensory perception and some scary bits, but largely this is a film of thought and emotion. Shyamalan invests it with layers of perception and intelligence that give it a certain depth.

The story of the Dunn marriage for instance, isn't the central idea of the film, but it's obvious that back story has been seriously considered in the acting, not just in the plotting. These people behave the way real humans behave, even if one of them may well be a superhero.

In a sense, of course, as with regular comic books, the essence of this story — which is that of a man coming with reluctance to accept that he is, in fact, a superhero — can be extrapolated to normal lives. We all have to come to accept something of what we are, and what we were born to do.

It's a little too hard to care about the adults of this film, which hurts it overall, as does its slow pace. The film is stylish, moody and creates a palable sense of existence, but has too little to say. It's just a mildy intriguing tale.

Is there a twist at the end? Well, sure. It's a Shyamalan film.

What is it? Ah, go rent it and watch for yourself.


At home is fine.

DVD at
VHS at

See cast, credit and other details about "Unbreakable" at Internet Movie Data Base.