- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

1 and 1/2 out of four stars
TITLE: "Unbreakable"
RATING: PG-13 (fleeting profanity and graphic violence; conceptually ugly episodes in which a boy threatens to shoot his father and a family is victimized by a psychopathic intruder)
CREDITS: Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

Philadelphia's spooky one, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, contrived an optimum sleeper in his supernatural suspense thriller "The Sixth Sense," which emerged from obscurity to become one of the blockbusters of 1999.
It wouldn't be surprising to learn that Mr. Shyamalan's follow-up project, "Unbreakable," loomed as the "most eagerly awaited" attraction of the Thanksgiving season. It remains to be seen whether enthusiasts will rejoice in the typically portentous but grievously miscalculated end product, which encourages spooky speculation about the superhuman potential of Bruce Willis.
Cast as an ordinary Joe named David Dunne, a rather disconsolate family man and security guard at the University of Pennsylvania, he miraculously survives a massive train wreck while returning to Philadelphia from New York City.
In the aftermath, we learn that a painful estrangement exists between Dunne and his wife, Audrey (Robin Wright Penn), who live separately while continuing to share the same house with their 12-year-old son, Joseph (Haley Joel Osment look-alike Spencer Treat Clark, who also had the principal juvenile roles in "Arlington Road" and "Gladiator").
The boy worships his dad. Indeed, they share the same bedroom now that the parents keep their distance. Less public curiosity and uproar surrounds the Dunnes than one would expect, given the most singular feature of David's deliverance: He was the only survivor and emerged from the wreckage without a scratch.
The Dunne miracle does arouse a suspiciously obsessive curiosity in a reclusive, snobbish, crippled character named Elijah Price, anticipated in a flashback prologue and then portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson.
The grotesquely afflicted role of Price may come back to haunt both actor and filmmaker, who fail to recognize its appalling implications outside the hermetic fictional framework of "Unbreakable." They end up demonizing conditions that don't cry out for the abuse.
An art gallery proprietor who has mounted an exhibition of comic-book art, Price contacts Dunne and attempts to persuade him that his survival was no accident, that it reveals superhuman powers he has failed to appreciate.
Although Mr. Shyamalan elects to manipulate this situation for essentially insincere creepiness and dread, there clearly is a sounder alternative before him: Leave it ambiguous but inspirational.
Reconcile David Dunne to the idea that something special and benevolent may be inferred from his survival and that modest heroism could be a part of the blessing. But stop short of an embrace of diabolical claptrap that makes the entire movie look evil-minded.
As a matter of fact, the evil-minded tendencies get out of hand well before the finale. I think Mr. Shyamalan should have his head examined for the interlude in which little Joey Dunne threatens to shoot his father as a way of proving to skeptical David that he really is indestructible.
This is the sort of ultradramatic gambit that deserves to be rejected from every standpoint, social or aesthetic. Insisting on it makes Mr. Shyamalan look like one desperate sadist.
It's possible that the sheer slowness and deliberation of Mr. Shyamalan's technique has a mesmerizing effect on susceptible spectators.
The typical Hollywood movie accentuates its shallowness by hurrying everything along, from images to episodes. Mr. Shyamalan prefers to brood and linger.
There's a kind of Shyamalan "hush" that other directors might want to imitate and improve, in part by applying the hush to fables that seemed less like mysticism for dummies.

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