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 ultra-realistic 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.