The Sixth Sense

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense thematic material and violent images.

Review by Matt Heffernan
August 6, 1999

The most difficult parts of filmmaking, or any type of storytelling, are the exposition and the resolution. The former is necessary to bring the audience into the story and lay down some basic elements of the plot and characters. Then you have the story itself, which must end with some sort of plot resolution so that we know when it is over. A simple concept, but very difficult to execute. The Sixth Sense has a very good story, but no adequate storyteller.

Bruce Willis stars in a very different role for him: a child psychologist, named Malcolm Crowe. We find out right away that he is a very good one because he and his wife, Anna (Olivia Williams), are discussing an award he won just prior to the on-screen action. This scene is quite possibly the most contrived exposition I have seen all year. But now that we have that information, we are ready for the next scene. They go upstairs and find that their house has been broken into. In their bathroom, a half-naked, shivering young man is standing there. He is a former patient, but tells Malcolm that he's still not alright. He proves this by shooting Malcolm in the stomach, then killing himself. Apparently, he's wasn't really that good.

Cut to next Fall. Malcolm is okay now and has been referred another young boy, Cole (Haley Joel Osment), whose profile reminds him of the man who shot him. This time, he's going to do what's right. Cole is very introverted and has deep sociological and psychological problems. Malcolm tries to open him up by spending large amounts of time with him. Meanwhile, Anna is being neglected, and Malcolm worries about their relationship as she continues to become more distant. Eventually, he gets Cole to say that he sees ghosts all the time, but he can't admit it to his mother (Toni Collette), because he doesn't want her to think he is a "freak", like everybody at school does.

So now we have a main plot (Malcolm trying to cure Cole of what he thinks are paranoid delusions) and a subplot (Malcolm's and Anna's marriage coming apart). Both of these are resolved in the most preposterous manner, and the ending is laughable. It is so contrived and lame (even more so than the exposition), that it negates the rest of the film, which wasn't too great to begin with.

I kind of felt sorry for Willis, who couldn't hold his own opposite Osment. Willis is more suited for action pictures and light comedy; here, he is just in over his head. Osment shows promise, but the script doesn't allow him to make the most of his character. Most of the other performances are uneven. Williams (who was very good in Rushmore) had a rather hard time disguising her English accent. The film didn't really require her to be American -- there are enough holes in it to allow a British wife to pass through.

The film makes some attempts at being scary, some more successful than others. It failed to create tension, so they had to depend on quick cuts and creepy music to liven it up. By the time the less-than-credible resolutions occur, the audience just doesn't care anymore.

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The Sixth Sense (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan