- Miles Fielder
- 14 December 2000
The less you know about Unbreakable before you see it the better. That said, M. Night Shyamalan's follow-up to The Sixth Sense begins with a train wreck outside of Philadelphia; from the wreckage crawls David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the sole survivor of 118 passengers. What's more, Dunn's completely unharmed; this man doesn't have a scratch on his body. His miraculous escape is the catalyst for three events: him and his estranged wife Audrey (Robin Wright Penn) re-think their impending split; eccentric art collector and sufferer of a debilitating brittle bone condition Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) pesters Dunn about his medical history; and Dunn's son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) takes hero worship a little too far. That's all you're getting, plot-wise.
Shyamalan has taken a preposterous story and grounded it with low-key plotting and a spare style. It's a trick he pulled off with great skill in The Sixth Sense, and with Unbreakable he pushes the strategy even further. The Sixth Sense took the familiar conventions of the classic ghost story, and underplayed every potentially sensational and/or cliched moment. Likewise, Unbreakable's drama unfolds slowly, between characters, with minimal dialogue and often in darkened interiors. The performance Shyamalan draws from Willis finishes what he started in their previous collaboration, namely to strip his star of that trademark charismatic persona (though Jackson, by contrast, verges on camp). The action, such as the train crash, takes place off screen. Essentially, what Shyamalan has once again done, is make a Hollywood blockbuster in the style of an art house film.
Not that Unbreakable isn't riveting; as the audience works feverishly to piece the facts together, the story slowly unfolds. The slow realisation of just what the hell is going on is a delight. Shyamalan's ideas are inspired and wholly original, though in hindsight they seem so simple, obvious even. Similarly, his seemingly effortless storytelling skill is actually careful control of his craft. It's going to be fascinating to see what he comes up with next. Rumour-mongers are gossiping about two Unbreakable sequels (and it's easy to see why). Shyamalan denies this; he's already writing his next film, which he promises will be much lighter in tone.
Finally, the facts and figures the film opens with as well as the two closing footnotes are superfluous.