Wednesday, August 11, 1999

The Sixth Sense

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Little Cole Sear (superbly played by Haley Joel Osment) lives inside a fraction of reality invisible to the naked eye. In his world, angry phantoms move about freely, unaware of their lack of substance.

Restless, mutilated souls, pitiful and frightening, they appeal to him, asking for justice. The air grows cold when they lose their temper, and little Cole Sear grows old on the inside, tormented by horrible sights, for in his presence they hide nothing, neither the gaping wounds on their bodies, nor the dark void in their eyes. Pallid and lost, they follow him around every day, men, women and children whose fate lies in the hands of a little boy.

Against a backdrop of increasingly cheap horror movies and monotonous psychological thrillers, director M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense stands out like a fortunate anomaly. Dark and eerie, populated by sad ghosts reminiscent of the mutants in The People Under the Stairs, The Sixth Sense comes to life in scenes of tremendous tenderness between the boy and his mother (Toni Collette of Velvet Goldmine), only to be killed by a terrible error in casting: Bruce Willis in the role of the psychologist.

The first time Willis played doctor (Color of Night), we put it behind us, convinced it could never happen again. After all, who but a newcomer like Shyamalan could confuse Willis’ Die Hard antics with the work of a character actor? Torn between his Indian roots and his pure American upbringing, between a magical, delicate sensibility and an odd predilection for one-liners, Shyamalan allows Willis to stroll through the picture like the Ghost of Christmas Past, "working on it" with all the glib confidence of a retired superhero.

Another "could-have-been" film, another almost successful compromise, another intelligent flick done in by its misplaced and worn-out star.

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