What are you expecting from Unbreakable? Chances are, you'll be expecting a supernatural thriller in the same vein as wonderboy-director M Night Shyamalan's hit spooker, The Sixth Sense. Or, if the plot synopsis rings any bells, perhaps you're thinking it's a Fearless rip-off, with Bruce Willis in the Jeff Bridges role. Whatever you're expecting, Unbreakable is likely to surprise you, maybe confound you, and will fuel pub conversations for months.
Of course, the vital question is: will you like it? And that's even harder to answer, because Shyamalan pushes his movie in such a boldly bizarre direction that even hinting at it could strip away layers of enjoyment. Furthermore, this unexpected tangent is so intensely perplexing that it could alienate the very same cinemagoers who sparked the word-of-mouth wildfire which ensured The Sixth Sense's blockbuster status. It'd be easy to dismiss Unbreakable as a jumped-up episode of The Twilight Zone and, while it does suffer from a rushed third act and a conclusion lacking the sort of impact you would justifiably expect, you can't deny that Shyamalan's high-profile curio oozes quality.
The first hour passes at an admirably ponderous pace, focusing on the effect of the train wreck - and its revelations - on the characters. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is clearly a very unhappy man, whose troubles are connected with his fractured family life. For some unknown reason, Dunn is deeply unsatisfied with his lot, and it's not until he encounters Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) that he begins to develop an understanding as to why this might be.
Jackson is suitably uncanny as the feeble mystery man who believes he knows the secret of Dunn's "destiny". We're not sure if he's a genius who's stumbled upon an amazingly weird discovery, or just a sad, deranged loon latching onto this strong survivor, because of his own crippling illness. With his nerdish afro and almost skeletal frame, Jackson hurls himself as far away from the cool confidence of Pulp Fiction's Jules as he can, turning in a performance that pretty much carries the movie.
In terms of direction this is far more confident than The Sixth Sense. The build-up to the train wreck, for example, is shot in one take, with Shyamalan flitting from Willis to another passenger using a hand-held camera placed at child's-eye view between the seats in front.
But, continue drawing comparisons (everybody will), and there's no denying that Unbreakable lacks its predecessor's coherence and sheer, audience-stunning impact. Yet pretend Sixth Sense never existed, and you're left with an intriguing, genre-confusing tale of survival and destiny which, while flawed, will pester your brain for days.
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Unbreakable's not perfect, with its sudden sprint towards the end causing the plot to unravel slightly. But a strong premise, assured direction and Jackson's unsettling turn create a curiously compelling story with enough resonance to forgive its shortcomings.