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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Unbreakable (Reviewed by Dad)

I’ve been enjoying watching Ben and his brother getting into the films that made M. Night Shyamalan a star director at the turn of the Millennium.  While Shyamalan’s 1999 surprise blockbuster Sixth Sense still packs a dramatic punch, the film Shyamalan made right after that hit - Unbreakable - has better withstood the test of time.

Like Sixth Sense, Unbreakable builds off a sad-sack Bruce Willis at the film’s center.  This time, Willis plays David Dunn, a security guard at Philadelphia sports stadium whose life is clearly troubled.  Difficulties with his marriage are hinted at as he makes a half-hearted attempt to pick up a fellow passenger on a train.  And then, the lights go out.

For everyone but Dunn, that is.  For the train he rides suffers a hideous derailment, one in which the girl he was hitting on and every other man, woman and child are killed - all except Dunn who survives the accident not just uninjured, but unscratched.

Relief over his survival turns to mystery once David hears from a mysterious stranger, Elija Price (played by Samuel L. Jackson), a collector of comic books and comic book art who proposes an explanation for why Dunn alone survived the train wreck: he’s actually a superhero.

After kicking off with some anthropological gobbledygook, Price gets to the meat of his argument.  For the obsessive comic collector and fan is afflicted with a hideous bone disorder that makes him fragile and thus vulnerable to injury from the slightest jolt.  And if someone as weak and breakable as he exists on one end of a spectrum, might there not be someone powerful and invulnerable on the other?

It takes some time for Dunn to determine whether Elija is nuts and his theory bunk, or if there might be something to this whole superhero thing.  In the process, he manages to drag his son into a search for the truth which (like any activity involving dragging your kids into something) has unexpected consequences.

One of those consequences - where Dunn uses the morning newspaper to show his son the truth (while hiding the news from Mrs. Dunn) - leads to the most powerful dramatic moment in the picture, cementing my opinion that the greatest talent both M. Night Shyamalan and Bruce Willis possess is creating incomparable scenes involving the action star interacting with children.

After Sixth Sense, Shyamalan got stuck having to create pictures with endings that caught the audience by surprise, so expect the unexpected in the final scenes of Unbreakable.  But the things that make the film both enjoyable and memorable are less about the shock ending than the human drama that takes place before then which tries to answer difficult questions regarding what it might mean for an ordinary man to realize that he's an extraordinary superman.

The film’s PG-13 rating probably derives from one brutal scene involving a kidnapping that might scare the 12-and-under crowd. But for 13-and-overs who have been weaned on fully-formed superheroes complete with costumes, armor and back stories, Unbreakable tries to answer a fundamental question never raised in either the Marvel and DC universes, namely, why is it axiomatic that someone with superior abilities must use them to fight for those less powerful than themselves?

Ben Replies: : I agree that Unbreakable had a good story and some good acting on the part of Bruce Willis and others. I get that it was a new take on a superhero movie, but the format and style seemed dull and kind of forced. The idea of turning a superhero movie into a subtle psychological piece of Oscar bait shouldn’t work, so I applaud that the filmmakers tried, and succeeded to an extent. But with such a good cast, it’s a shame that Shymalan felt the need to be so experimental. The dialogue between Jackson and Willis could have been more intense, but instead we are stuck will very average dialogue by two actors who could have acted their characters out of the park. This film could have been brilliant, but M. Night was trying too many things at once, so I finished the film feeling like the whole effort was mediocre.

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