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Heroes of the Zeroes: Unbreakable

by on November 9, 2010
 

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Unbreakable”
Rated PG-13
2000

Fresh off “The Sixth Sense, “ M. Night Shyamalan started the Zeroes as a premier auteur, but he ended them as a pretentious amateur.

Sequel talk for 2000’s “Unbreakable” often sparks because this unconventionally contemplative comic-book film is Shyamalan’s only idea worth continuing.

“Unbreakable” patiently lets character arcs trump blockbuster beats, muted grays bloom into color at perfect moments and thrillingly unpredictable camerawork play into payoffs. (A scene entirely in a turned-off TV’s convex reflection sets up one character’s dangerously skewed reality.)

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is a security guard on the ropes with his wife (Robin Wright Penn) and son (Spencer Treat Clark). After David is the only survivor of a train wreck, he’s summoned by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) — a brittle-boned comics collector convinced David is a superhero.

David doesn’t thrill at new skills like Peter Parker, but faces the terror of resurrecting something he’s repressed for love and comfort. (In intimate scenes, the Dunns recognize how little they know of each other or how much they’ve chosen to forget.)

Shyamalan also generates brilliantly unbearable suspense during a sequence when David tests his alleged powers — a short-film triumph on its own, during which a pool feels like a storm-ravaged ocean.

“Unbreakable” ultimately questions society’s maddening desire to lift up heroes in lieu of our own shortcomings: What does Elijah want David to validate about his existence? In that sense, it almost plays now like an anticipatory 9/11 metaphor.

Regardless of its reading, “Unbreakable” is Shyamalan’s visionary masterpiece.