You would not think of David Dunn (Bruce Willis) as a particularly lucky guy. He works as a humble security guard, his marriage is close to a breakup, and he can't even pick up the pretty woman sitting next to him on the train taking him home to Philadelphia after a failed job interview.
On the other hand, when that train is wrecked, he is the only survivor--not a scratch on him. This interests Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who is Dunn's obvious opposite--an elegant, well-spoken dude who runs an upscale store dealing in original comic-book art. He is also afflicted by a congenital illness that causes his bones to shatter on the slightest contact--reason enough, one imagines, to account for his cranky manner.
And, perhaps, for his obsessive interest in Dunn, who, for all his bad luck, enjoys perfect health. And we mean perfect. The guy never even gets the sniffles. He is, to borrow this film's perfectly descriptive title, Unbreakable. Moreover, under Price's possibly prompting gaze, he develops a talent for spotting criminals before they actually commit a crime. Despite his modest demeanor and circumstances, Dunn has the potential to be a superhero working the real-life streets of Philadelphia.
This is writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's native ground, and as he did in last year's coolly creepy sleeper The Sixth Sense, he uses it brilliantly. Nobody grounds the supernatural in the quotidian--especially the lower-middle-class variety, where the struggle to make the rent can equal the struggle to understand the unseen--more persuasively than Shyamalan does.
And, yes, we are once again in the realm of the supernatural here. Price knows a lot more about it than he lets on. More about it, indeed, than the responsible reviewer, protecting the reader from foreknowledge of Unbreakable's well-disguised surprise ending, dares to tell. Suffice it to say that Price's belief in the power of "comix" to symbolize the endless battle between good and evil betokens a more intimate understanding of that topic than he cares to admit.
The film is very well played. Willis is good as a depressed man resisting instinctive, inchoate hints that he is not living up to his uncanny potential. And Jackson's ability to play perverse intelligence gets its best outing since Pulp Fiction. Robin Wright Penn is superb as the wife almost defeated by Dunn's inarticulate withdrawals, and young Spencer Treat Clark's hopeful patience with his troubled dad is fine too.
This is a hushed, dark, rather thoughtfully paced film. If it lacks the persuasive menace of The Sixth Sense, that's because it's trying too hard to make its dubious point about evil as a self-conscious, supernatural immanence. Even so, it is an intelligent, insinuating entertainment. --By Richard Schickel