Unbreakable

Unbreakable

If you don't want to hear about the plot twists in this film, then don't read this review. However, I have to say, I guessed the big twist ending of Shyamalan's breakout film The Sixth Sense about a third of the way through watching it, and that actually made me like that film more. In the case of Unbreakable, an insider friend tipped me off on the big twist ending months ago, so perhaps that clouded my enjoyment somewhat.

Unbreakable is about an ordinary man (Bruce Willis) who, after being the sole survivor of a horrible train wreck - and escaping without a scratch - begins to wonder if he has, in fact, some sort of superpower. His curiosity is goaded by a weirdo comics dealer (Samuel L. Jackson, sporting a nappy afro) who appears to be the polar opposite: born with broken limbs, he suffers from extremely fragile bones and is thus as "breakable" as they come.

Jackson seems intent on proving to Willis that not only do superheroes exist, but that Willis is one of them. Why does Jackson care? Ah, the irony that lies therein is the stuff of which twist endings are made.

Unbreakable is the perfect companion piece to The Sixth Sense, and shares a similar setup: a lonely Philadelphia resident discovers a preternatural talent that seems a curse until he can channel it into a blessing, with help from a troubled stranger who isn't quite what he seems to be. The mood is identically gloomy, the music equally sparse, the slow pacing very much the same. Which isn't a bad thing: I think Shyamalan is quite a good director. But his script is too portentous and serious for me.

I think Shyamalan was understandably caught off guard by the phenomenal success of The Sixth Sense, and was pushed by the studio into quickly making a follow-up film before the idea behind it had time to mature. It shows. Unbreakable isn't without merit, and as for its twist ending, I think it's all rather clever, hypothetically (the story becoming as much about the making of a supervillain as it is about that of a superhero), but when the last act unfolds before your eyes, it feels rushed, unfinished.

It's pretty clear that Shyamalan wanted to put his own personal spin on the standard "Superhero Origin" story, and structurally he gets away with it. But it offers few of the emotional rewards of The Sixth Sense. Shyamalan the director is so good at building suspense and sustaining a mood that Shyamalan the screenwriter should be given more time to perfect a script that will be worthy of his own direction.