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'Unbreakable': Unrelentingly Gripping

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 24, 2000


    'Unbreakable' Bruce Willis gets answers from Samuel L. Jackson in "Unbreakable."
(Touchstone Pictures)
Whatever you ultimately make of "Unbreakable," I think you're going to be mesmerized by the experience.

Just as he did in "The Sixth Sense," writer-director M. Night Shyamalan leads you into a fascinating labyrinth – an alternative universe that lurks right under our noses. In this case, it's the mythological world and, in these modern times, the secret design to that labyrinth – the key to the path – is contained in comic books.

David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the sole survivor of a massive train wreck, is about to learn a great deal about himself, destiny and comic books. His rapid education comes from the prophetically named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), whose scripture derives from such comic adventures as "Jaguaro."

How could David, a soft-spoken security guard from Philadelphia, escape a disaster that claimed 131 lives? Elijah, a remarkly perceptive man who suffers from a degenerative bone disease that makes him especially vulnerable to fractures, has his suspicions. So does David's adulatory son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), who considers his father a true hero.

One thing David should know, Elijah explains, is that comic books aren't just comic books. They're a form of history. Sure, he continues, they're "jazzed up" to be sold to young boys. But their mythical stories about good and evil, are the modern equivalent of cave paintings or the Odyssey or the Bayeux Tapestry.

These comic books tell Elijah vital things about David. He asks David some crucial questions: Has he ever been hurt before? Has he ever called in sick? Suddenly, David is forced to reassess his entire life, at the urging of a questionable stranger.

Without getting into the details, I think that, given the profound, mystical questionsthat Shyamalan raises, he opts for a relatively complacent conclusion. I don't think this movie is perfect, by any means. But it's rare to find a film that makes you even hope for perfection. I was hooked from beginning to end. Shyamalan's movies are great simply because they have such inspired belief in themselves. They don't just invite the audience to solve the puzzle, they ask viewers to look within themselves. And if you willingly follow Shyamalan into his twisting, winding premise – which means adopting the para-reality of comic book melodrama – "Unbreakable" becomes extremely powerful. Whatever your final verdict, you could do worse than enjoy one of the most fertile minds in Hollywood.

"Unbreakable" (PG-13, 107 minutes) – Contains gruesome bone fractures, violence and scenes of high emotional intensity.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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