Unbreakable: Frank Masi
June 28, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s fairly obvious that, this far into his career, M. Night Shyamalan is making films that lend credence to subjects traditionally seen as childish. So, as ”The Sixth Sense” was a mature ghost story, Unbreakable is his ultrarealistic look at comic book heroics. In a dark, olive drab Philadelphia, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) cranks out an unfulfilled existence as a stadium security guard, unloved by his wife (Robin Wright Penn), unknown by his son. It’s only after David survives a fatal train disaster — and after frequent, cryptic run-ins with the brittle Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) — that he learns the secret of his identity.

There are moments in ”Unbreakable” that reveal Shyamalan as a natural storyteller — he seems as sure of himself as Spielberg was on his fourth film — but there are also moments that reveal the limitations of his style. One of the crucial elements of comic book lore is that beat where the hero learns of his power and is joyously transformed by it — Clark Kent’s first giddy flight — and Shyamalan’s dour demeanor deprives us of that vicarious thrill. And his insistence on the jaw-dropping twist ending, in this case, robs us of what could have been another great 20 minutes of story, or better yet, the makings of a sequel. Instead, we get an abrupt, ”Dragnet” kicker that would have been edited out of any decent comic.

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