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The Sixth Sense

No terrorists, guns, or asteroids

By Tzu-Mainn Chen

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

With Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg

Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is a young boy whose special power, “the sixth sense,” enables him to perceive the ghosts which, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, walk among us every day. Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is a child psychologist, whose professional confidence is shattered when a former child patient of his, whom he had believed cured, unexpectedly re-enters his life with traumatic results for both. The interaction between these two characters is what drives The Sixth Sense, which may surprise people who expect other things in a Bruce Willis movie -- terrorists with Uzis, gangsters with machine guns, and maybe a passing asteroid or two.

However, his roles in The Sixth Sense and the upcoming movie, Breakfast of Champions, based on the Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. novel, show that Willis is trying to change his action-star image. As Dr. Crowe, Willis does a more than passable job, lending real humanity and believability to a character who is trying to help Cole in order to atone for a past mistake. Although there are a few instants when one gets the sense that the good doctor would like to pull out a Magnum and start blowing things away, these moments are few enough, and the film’s strengths are powerful enough to make any of Willis’s lapses easily overlooked.

The true star of the movie, however, is Haley Joel Osment, who plays Cole. Afraid to speak of the things that he sees for fear of being branded as a freak, Cole can say nothing about his sixth sense to anybody, not even his mother. As a result, Cole is a silent, withdrawn boy, with a constant air of sadness around him. With eyes that always look like they’re on the verge of tears, Osment convincingly portrays a child who needs to cry, but is too scared -- and there are very few things as heart-wrenching as that.

The movie does not make the mistake of making Cole into a caricature. He’s no angel; instead, he can be acerbic, willful, and cruel. In other words, Cole is a normal, human child. As a result, when the movie finally reveals what Cole actually sees, the effect is scarier than anything I saw in either The Haunting or The Blair Witch Project. The ghosts that Cole interacts with are truly terrifying, and the effect is magnified by the knowledge that Cole is not afflicted by his visions because he’s a sinner or a saint. He’s just a human being, like anybody else, randomly selected to possess a sixth sense, and because of it, his life has been turned into an utter hell. It’s simply not fair, and it is this strong sense of unfairness pervading The Sixth Sense that gives it such a powerful air of tragedy.

The relationship and trust between Dr. Crowe and Cole develops very naturally, and for the most part, both Willis and Osment do a good job of acting. However, the peripheral events and characters which play around the pair occasionally seem forced. Cole’s mother, played by Toni Collette of Muriel’s Wedding, especially seems guilty of overacting -- but I’ve never been a single mother working two part-time jobs in order to support an emotionally disturbed child, so perhaps I shouldn’t judge.

In addition, some scenes, although affecting, are overly melodramatic, to the point where the realism Willis and Osment bring to The Sixth Sense breaks, and the viewer suddenly becomes very aware that the whole movie is just that -- a movie.

But these minor faults never overshadow the very moving, very effective thread of the main plot. And, just when the movie seems to resolve into a comfortable ending, one final twist breaks all previous perceptions wide open, and leaves the viewer pondering the nature of what happened.

So, no, The Sixth Sense isn’t an action movie, and although there are a couple of moments of tension and fright, it’s not really a horror movie either. Anybody expecting either of these types of movies will probably be left disappointed when the credits begin to roll. Anyone who’s willing to see one of the best movies of the summer won’t be.