A long-attention-span blockbuster in a rapid-cut world, M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense melded elegant, mature storytelling with Twilight Zone-worthy shocks and thrills, earning glowing reviews and mountains of cash while turning its creator into one of Hollywood's most powerful young filmmakers. A companion piece to—and an alternate version of—Shyamalan's breakthrough, Unbreakable shares with The Sixth Sense not only a star (Bruce Willis), but also a nearly identical story arc, an obsession with the intersection of fate and destiny, and an air of claustrophobic, grief-haunted sadness. Playing a character who could easily be the underachieving twin brother of the child psychologist he played in The Sixth Sense, Willis stars as a one-time football hero who has settled into a deeply compromised life as a melancholy security guard, husband, and father. Willis' life takes a turn for the eerie, however, after he becomes the sole, unharmed survivor of a horrible train wreck, a feat that wins him the unwanted attention of eccentric, brittle-boned comic-book collector Samuel L. Jackson, who sees a higher meaning in Willis' escape from death. Visually and stylistically, Unbreakable is nearly identical to The Sixth Sense, using long takes, fluid camera movements, a minimal score, and muted cinematography to create an enigmatic, mysterious, portentous atmosphere. Viscerally and emotionally, however, Unbreakable doesn't pack quite as much punch, in part because the novelty of Shyamalan's synthesis of clinical, Kubrickian storytelling and pulpy twists has worn off. If Shyamalan presided over The Sixth Sense like an ineffable but supremely confident cinematic deity, his touch here seems like that of a gifted magician who can't quite hide the seams and distractions of his act. Willis is an actor of considerable substance when not smirking his way through big-budget action movies, and Shyamalan once again taps into the icon's seldom-utilized vulnerable side, resulting in one of the best performances of his career. Like Haley Joel Osment in Sense, Jackson has a far flashier role than Willis, and he rips into it with enormous zest, clearly savoring each line of dialogue. But even Jackson's performance can't quite hide the fact that his character seems more like a collection of good ideas than a human being. That's both part of Unbreakable's problem and one of its strengths: Shyamalan is so ambitious that he can't help but promise more than he delivers. Ultimately, viewers' expectations will play a large part in determining how they react to Unbreakable. Anyone walking in expecting a near-perfect spine-tingler will inevitably walk away disappointed. Those coming in with more modest expectations, however, will discover a flawed but distinctly personal and rewarding film.
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