Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

FLASHBACKS: The Sixth Sense reviewed, 8/24/1999

There were couples who had just seen the new film The Sixth Sense who were walking out of the theater holding hands.

And you know, that is a good response to this movie.

I really liked this film, a quiet and moody story about sensitive people trying to do what’s right in difficult circumstances and against tough odds. Released in the special effects-heavy summer, this movie’s special effect is to focus on what makes people people.

Bruce Willis is Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist who is troubled by a former patient he learned – too late – that he wasn’t able to help. His memory of this boy, who grew up only to commit suicide right in front of Malcolm, has affected his entire life: Malcolm’s once-loving marriage to Anna Crowe (Olivia Williams) is now like a visit among the walking dead, and he sees evidence that she’s seeing another man.

Malcolm finds another potentially troubled boy, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who is uncommonly sensitive and is ostracized about it. Malcolm imagines Cole to be much like the suicidal ex-patient, and becomes determined to do right this time. The two of them talk, learning about each other. (Already it’s a good talking movie – something I appreciate.)

Somehow, Cole can sense memories – especially those which other people don’t want to think about. “They used to hang people here,” Cole states quietly in class when his teacher asks if the students know the history of their old-town Philadelphia school. The teacher says no, this used to be a courthouse. But Cole can see the ghosts of the people who were found guilty there – and hanged on the spot.

Yes, this is a ghost story, and certainly more successful in its low-key way than the often bombastic remake of The Haunting. Here, unlike in that film, one is not “cured” of ghosts; the story is about Cole learning to deal safely with those lost souls. Cole is scared at first because some of these ghosts take advantage of him, or hurt him, because they know nothing but how to lash out and hurt others.

This is a lot for a child to handle – and a lot for a child actor to convey. The young Osment (he played Forrest Gump’s son) is a vision as Cole: a boy with tough experiences beyond his years, who knows why he unnerves people and keep very quiet and wrapped up in himself because of it. You don’t usually see kids like Cole in movies, but I’ve seen real kids like Cole.

Toni Collette plays his mother, Lynn. Lynn is at-sea because of what swirls around her son, and her love for him is tinged with frustration and fear at not being able to protect him from what he must see. But when they do connect as mother and child…it got me. They have a talk that, for me, is the best scene in the film.

As Malcolm, Bruce Willis gives a gentle and humble performance – the sort of good person deeply bothered by things not being right. He looks like a gentle giant walking alongside Cole. It’s a reminder that being still can be a powerful tool for an actor.

This movie does have shocks, but they all have an undercurrent of quiet sadness – these are more than shocks for shock’s sake. The ghosts Cole can see usually show signs of their violent ends: a boy with a gunshot wound in the back of his head, a woman with burn scares across half of her face.

As for the ending…it made me look back at the rest of the movie and realize that even when nothing seemed to be happening, something was. It also made me tear up.

Strictly in terms of story logic, The Sixth Sense tells you just enough to keep most of us from questioning how the movie can justify that ending. Had this film been sloppy in any way, and not so assured – as written and directed by young M. Night Shyamalan, and shot by director of photography Tak Fujimoto of The Silence of the Lambs – the movie would have been a cheat.

This movie doesn’t cheat you. This could be your best chance this summer to let a movie move you.
Tags: film reviews, flashbacks

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