The Sixth Sense
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Starring Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment


The Sixth Sense

The people love it, most of my colleagues hate it; what's a guy to do? Both parties loved "Blair Witch," while I hated it. This time, ever in the wrong corner, I go with the people. "The Sixth Sense" is touching, moving, fascinating. It carries us along easily as a ghost story, but without the overt threat-to-us-in-the-audience that conventional horror movies rely on. And best of all, it hides its solution so well that I for one -- knowing in advance that there was in fact a solution but just not knowing what -- was taken completely by surprise.

Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is a Philadelphia child psychologist who comes home one night after receiving an award from the city, and while celebrating with his wife finds an intruder in the bathroom. It's a former patient whom Crowe couldn't help years before, now grown, now desperate, now a frightening figure. He accuses Crowe of failing him, pulls out a gun and shoots Crowe, then shoots himself. Cut to six months later, when Crowe is given another child to work with -- nine-year-old Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment, in a brilliant piece of casting. Osment has the transparency to let us see through his shell and into his very core.).

This child is unreachable by others, closed in everywhere (he has a hiding place in his apartment, made of blankets held together by clothespins). His harried mother, beautifully played by Toni Collette, loves him, defends him, wants help for him from Crowe.

Slowly, Malcolm and Cole build a bit of confidence in each other, and Cole opens up and reveals his fear. That becomes a turning point in the film, for us as well as for them.

Meanwhile, as Malcolm spends more and more time and energy with Cole, his own marriage suffers. His wife (Olivia Williams) seems isolated now, almost unaware of Malcolm. All of this is written, directed (by M. Night Shyamalan) and photographed (by the great Tak Fujimoto, and notice how he softens the colors to reveal the architectural details of well-worn homes, apartments, rooms, and people themselves) in a leisurely, sad, thoughtfully paced procession of incidents and insights. We're moved both by what we see and by the way in which it's given to us by Shyamalan.

Although there are clues to the dénouement for us if we want to catch them, the ending is better -- and truer, if that's possible in a ghost story -- than a one-joke film like "Blair Witch." Willis gives an understated, thoroughly believable performance as Malcolm, Collette finds a way to show us a complex, loving, and attractive person caught in a frightening situation, and Osment is just remarkable as Cole. This time, the people got it right.    

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