Do you know why you're scared when you're alone? Judge Clark Douglas does.
Our review of The Sixth Sense, published April 10th, 2000, is also available.
Not every gift is a blessing.
"I want to tell you my secret now."
Facts of the Case
Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis, Die Hard) has had a very successful career as a child therapist. His success has taken a lot of hard work and even more of his time, but it finally seems to have paid off. Malcolm has received an award from the city of Philadelphia, and things really seem to be looking up. His marriage is going well, his career is at an all-time high, and he is generally happy and at peace. Then a traumatic event changes everything. One of Malcolm's former patients breaks into the house and shoots Malcolm. This event somehow shakes everything up. Malcolm's career starts tumbling down the drain, and his wife suddenly becomes cold and distant.
In the middle of all this turmoil, Malcolm takes on a new patient; a young boy named Cole (Haley Joel Osment, Secondhand Lions). Cole's case is a particularly challenging one, and it's taking Malcolm longer than usual to try and figure out what kind of secrets this wounded young man is hiding. Even more disturbingly, Cole's case is almost identical to the case of the young man who would eventually shoot Malcolm. That case was the only instance in which Malcolm failed his patient, and he is determined not to let it happen again. What is Cole going through, and what is his big secret?
M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense startled almost everyone when it was released. Before long, "I see dead people" (oh, uh, spoiler alert) became the hot new phrase, and the Academy was so bowled over by what they had seen that they generously awarded the film nominations for Best Supporting Actor & Actress, Best Editing, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture. The packaging proudly boasts that The Sixth Sense is "the #1 thriller of all time!" Taking a look back at the film that launched the career of the hit-and-miss Shyamalan, how well does it hold up? Is it really a first-class thriller, or did the whole thing get a little too much hype?
I tend to lean toward the latter, but that doesn't mean that The Sixth Sense isn't a good film. It is, and it certainly stands head and shoulders above misguided Shyamalan efforts like The Village and Lady in the Water. The film is best-known for its twists and turns, but it manages to hold up reasonably well because it is not completely defined by those twists and turns. I know people will hate me for this, but I think that The Usual Suspects (often compared to this film for superficial reasons) is kind of dull when you view it a second or third time, because the film has nothing to offer except for a big "gotcha!" in the final moments. The Sixth Sense is more concerned with creating sympathetic and complex characters, which goes a long way toward its success.
There are quite a few small characters hanging around the edges of this film, but it almost entirely carried by Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment. Their scenes together are genuinely exceptional for a wide variety of reasons. First of all, Willis does not talk down to Osment in the way that many old pros speak to children in movies. Second, Osment is a kid who refreshingly avoids the precocious factor that afflicts many child actors. That sort of sentence is usually followed by something like, "the young actor actually seems wise beyond his years." That's kind of true here, but there's more to it than that. Osment combines a deep soulfulness with the genuine innocence and fear of a young child. It's a terrific performance, and it's a shame that we don't see Osment in the movies too often these days.
Shyamalan's direction is somber and serious, but the weight of the material here actually manages to support Shyamalan's heavy-handed style. Shyamalan is a director who takes himself very seriously, and his films have an air of ominous self-importance that can be both a blessing and a curse. Working with the right material, he can be deeply compelling. Not only in this film, but also in Unbreakable, Signs, and (don't hit me, kids) The Happening. When the material is unable to sustain the style, the results are disastrous (the aforementioned The Village and Lady in the Water). In this film, even with the eternally funereal tone, Shyamalan keeps us engaged with his thoughtful characters.
The transfer here is quite solid for a 10-year-old film. Blacks are quite deep, and the images are rich and well-balanced. The sound is even stronger, with a rich mix that really accentuates the very creepy sound design and score (the latter provided by James Newton Howard, who is never better than when he is working with Shyamalan.) The solid supplements are engaging, but they were all included on the previous DVD release. "Reflections From the Set" and "Between Two Worlds" run over an hour combined, and offer an in-depth look at the making of the film as well as various real-life ghost phenomenons. Shorter featurettes focus on more specific areas: "The Storyboard Process," "Music and Sound Design," "Reaching the Audience," and "Rules and Clues." Finally, there are a few deleted scenes. Good stuff.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I want to say that the movie cheats, but that wouldn't be quite fair. It doesn't cheat, exactly. There is a line of dialogue that kind of explains everything away, and the movie never actually shows us anything contradictory to the twist that is revealed at the end. Even so, there are moments we do not see that would have undoubtedly looked ridiculous. How on earth did some scenes happen to come about in the first place, given the true nature of things? It doesn't sit well with me, and the whole thing seems a bit hokey when viewed a second time.
Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment and M. Night Shyamalan have all had their embarrassing films, but this is one of the more successful outings for all three of them. The Sixth Sense is solid suspense tale that is still holding up quite well.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Hollywood Pictures
• "Reflections From the Set"
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