They are the type of headlines that instantly grab your attention. You read them with morbid curiosity. Train derails, no survivors. Plane crashes on take-off. No survivors. Bus plunges off icy road. No survivors.

unbreakableThen there’s that one headline. Subway crash kills 77, leaves one survivor. Man walks away from fatal plane crash. Woman survives four-story leap in hotel fire with no broken bones. We think to ourselves, miracles do exist. What we never think is that the miracle is the person themselves.

Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) scours the headlines because he knows better. He understands that the person is the miracle, and looks endlessly to find that person. His wall is filled with newspaper clippings filled with disasters, both natural and manmade. Trapped inside a fragile body that can break like glass, Elijah is looking for his opposite.

He is looking for someone “Unbreakable.” After years of looking, Elijah finds him in Philadelphia security-guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the only survivor of a nasty train accident. Not only did Dunn survive the wreck, he walked away without a scratch. Elijah’s search is over. Now the real journey begins.

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, “Unbreakable” is a haunting tale of two totally opposite men who learn they share an uncommon bond. Like the secret of Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense,” that bond isn’t revealed until the final moments of “Unbreakable.” The director skillfully lays out the groundwork leading up to that moment, creating a complex, multi-layered plot that is as tightly wound as a spring.

Comparisons to “The Sixth Sense” are inevitable, and indeed Shyamalan visits some of the same themes. There is a father-son relationship similar to the one shared by Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense.” Supernatural events surround Willis, who uses his situation to save members of a family in peril.

Instead of pretending “The Sixth Sense” didn’t exist, Shyamalan embraces its influences. He works off of that film’s strengths to create an equally eerie tale. His deliberate pacing, forcing us to patiently wait as he plays his cards, creates an undercurrent of suspense that drives the film. Instead of quick cuts, he keeps his camera in one place, allowing the actors and dialogue to maintain the momentum.

Willis is exceptional as a disillusioned father who shares an apartment with his son and ex-wife, a beautifully understated Robin Wright Penn. Once a star athlete with a promising career, a car accident has forced him to become a security guard at the very stadium he once played in. Willis perfectly conveys the spirit of a man whose life didn’t turn out the way he imagined.

His character, David Dunn, becomes an instant celebrity when he emerges as the only survivor of the wreck. The moment where Dunn learns this, sitting in the hospital emergency room watching the only other survivor die in the next room, is one of the most unnerving things I’ve sat through this year.

Instead of finding himself lucky, Dunn begins to question his mortality. Why him? A note tucked under the windshield wiper of his truck peaks his interest. Has he ever been sick? Has he ever broken a bone? The note leads him to Elijah, a purveyor of comic book art, who runs an upscale gallery and shop. Elijah compares himself and Dunn to comic book characters, and suggests that Dunn might have special powers.

Dunn finds the suggestion absurd, yet the more he examines his past, the more he suspects that Elijah may be on to something. How this revelation affects Dunn, his family, and ultimately his future, make for riveting viewing.

Trapped under a mess of hair and a body twisted by fate, Jackson delivers a chilling performance. You really feel for his character, yet there is something about him that makes you hold back. Jackson shades the character with enough ambiguity so you’re never really sure what his real goal is. Does he plan to polarize his physical condition with the help of Dunn? Shyamalan keeps us guessing until the final moments.

The film finds its heart in the relationship between Dunn and his son Joseph, played with believable passion and concern by Spencer Treat Clark of “Gladiator.” The moment where Joseph attempts to test Elijah’s theory by shooting his father will leave you breathless and emotionally drained. The kid is so intense he scares you.

So does Shyamalan, who builds up the suspense to the point where it’s almost unbearable. The more Dunn explores his gift, the darker the film gets, and pretty soon it’s frightening. By the time Dunn becomes involved with a break-in killer, all of my fingernails were gone.

Shyamalan’s dialogue is very specific. He’s careful not to give away too much, yet wise enough to lay the groundwork for the final payoff. He creates characters that are interesting yet very common. That helps ground their incredible journey. You can relate to them, even when they become involved in incredible situations. You’re right there with Dunn as he wades through the masses at a train station, invisibly feeling their thoughts. You accept it because you accept Dunn.

Technically, “Unbreakable” is just as solid. The cinematography, music and editing all combine to fulfill Shyamalan’s vision. Each and every one is vital to the overall effect, which is one of the year’s most satisfying thrillers.

DESTINY’S CHILDMore Night sweats from a riveting filmmaker


Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard in a film directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Rated PG-13. 107 Minutes.


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