Bruce Willis stars as Dr. Malcolm, a child psychiatrist whose brilliant career helping the younger ones has earned him a prestigious award from the city of Philadelphia, and he’s happily married to an antique shop owner (Olivia Williams). But one fateful night, his self-confidence is shattered when a former patient (New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg, unrecognizable) comes to see him, seriously deranged, and Malcolm understands he didn’t actually help him at all back when he was a kid. After that, he’s a different man, broken, and his wife and him grow distant. And then he meets Cole (Haley Joel Osment), a boy who has similar problems. He’s overly quiet and weird, seems to live in constant terror and has unexplainable bruises and marks on his little body. Malcolm feels that if he can help Cole, he’ll somehow redeem himself.
Saying more would be unforgivable. This is the kind of movie with a bigger-than-life twist that makes you wanna see it again, as it puts everything into perspective. But unlike the nonetheless clever endings of films like “The Usual Suspects” or “The Game”, this one makes absolute sense and doesn’t feel like a trick. The entire picture is constructed around that final revelation, and if you’re attentive it’s obvious. Personally, I happened to suspect what was up in the very first scene, but it didn’t ruin my experience. Au contraire, my doubts had me compellingly watching how subtly and ingenuously the film is woven.
“The Sixth Sense” was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, a 29 year old who shows uncanny maturity and skill. His third movie (he previously made the little seen “Wide Awake” and “Praying With Anger”) presents us with brilliant filmmaking to the service of a real knowledge of life. The characters are complex and interesting, the premise is intriguing and the film’s restrained pace makes it only more evocative and powerful. Shyamalan creates incredible atmosphere through the gloomy cinematography of Tak Fujimoto and James Newton Howard‘s slightly offbeat score.
And then there are the top-notch performances. Bruce Willis ruled in action flicks like “Die Hard” (arguably the coolest guy movie ever made), but also showed acting range in such daring films as “Pulp Fiction” and “Twelve Monkeys”. Here he shows calm and austerity, softly giving soul to his character. Toni Collette is excellent as well as Cole’s single mother, who’s deeply caring but not one of those annoyingly perky movie moms; she’s had it rough, and sometimes it comes off in her attitude with her son.
But there’s no question that the film really belongs to young Haley Joel Osment, who gives the most intense and memorable, Oscar-worthy performance I’ve seen so far this year. You never think of him as a cutesy child actor. He plays a tormented kid who’s terrified relentlessly by his gift/curse. He might be shaking or crying, but he’s still strong and brave if you understand how disturbing it must be to constantly see dead people walking around, unknowingly from the living population.
The relevance of its themes, the effectiveness of the direction and the moving performances contribute to make “The Sixth Sense” a fascinating film.