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The Sixth Sense

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Sixth Sense

Starring: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: August 1999
Genre: Horror

*Also starring: Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton

Review by Greg King
3½ stars out of 4

The Sixth Sense is a gripping and intriguing combination of psychological thriller and ghost story, with a solid emotional core that reminds one of Jerry Zucker's Ghost (1990).

Eight year old Cole Sear (beautifully played by Haley Joel Osment, a veteran of television and film, whose roles include playing Forrest jr in Forrest Gump) is a deeply troubled kid. However, his mother (Aussie actress Toni Collette) and doctors are unable to discover the cause of his problems. Enter renowned child psychologist Dr Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who builds a rapport with Cole, and eventually discovers that the kid is visited by ghosts. Cole is unusually sensitive to their presence, and these spirits want him to help pass messages to their living relatives and ease their grief and suffering.

A year earlier Crowe was shot by one of his former patients, and is determined not to fail Cole, even at the cost of his failing marriage. His long suffering wife Anna (Olivia Williams, from Rushmore, etc) has grown cold and distant. In helping Cole come to terms with his supernatural visitors, Crowe also understands the source of his own personal problems.

Writer/director M Night Shyamalan ends the film with an unexpected but rewarding twist. So many films end with a twist that is both contrived and unconvincing. However, the sting in the tail here works beautifully, and, like the surprise ending of The Usual Suspects, it will have audiences re- evaluating everything from a completely different perspective.

The Sixth Sense is in many ways an atypical Willis thriller. Here he is not saving the world, merely a young child. However, in contrast to the recent Mercury Rising, he does it without blazing guns. Willis rises to the occasion with a far more perceptive, restrained and intelligent performance that perfectly suits the mood of the film. However, it is young Osment who steals the film with his sensitive, sympathetic, intelligent and hugely endearing portrayal. Collette is superb as Cole's concerned but confused mother, and delivers a solid, rich and gut-wrenching performance that easily ranks amongst her best.

It seems fitting that The Sixth Sense is filmed in Philadelphia, a city steeped in history and the ghosts of the past. Shyamalan beautifully builds up an unsettling atmosphere with lots of symbolism and mysticism. He succeeds in unnerving audiences without a heavy dependence on clever effects or carefully staged shocks. Tak Fujimoto's cinematography further enhances the film's eerie mood.

This intriguing psychological thriller is actually the third film from Shyamalan, a Philadelphia-based film maker who turned his back on his family tradition of a career in medicine to pursue a film career. While his previous films are virtually unknown outside America, The Sixth Sense has gained international release. Shyamalan directs with the assurance and confidence of a film maker in complete command of his material, and this eerie thriller heightens expectations for his next film.

It is a little surprising that a film devoid of the usual Hollywood trappings of big effects, pyrotechnics, chases and lots of violence, has done so well at the box office. But then again, as with the superb Ghost, its central theme of mortality strikes a personal and deeply emotional chord with the audience.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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