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Impressive acting, not ghosts, is driving force in 'Sixth Sense'

By Dan Cassino
Arizona Summer Wildcat
August 9, 1999
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Arizona Summer Wildcat

Photo courtesy of: Spyglass Entertainment Group, LP
Eight-year-old Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is haunted by a dark secret. When child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) eventually realizes the extraordinary truth about Cole, the consequences for client and therapist are a jolt that awakens them to something astonishing and unexplicable in the psychological thriller "The Sixth Sense."

Arizona Summer Wildcat

"The Sixth Sense" is not a Bruce Willis movie.

Sure, Bruce Willis' name is in big letters above the title, but he's not the star.

That role belongs to Haley Joel Osment as Cole Sear, an eight-year-old boy with serious problems. Is he really seeing ghosts, or is he just trying to cope with the shadow of his parents' divorce? Why is he shoplifting from churches?

The answers to these questions are more than a little obvious, but this is Hollywood, and it takes an hour for the main characters to figure them out.

Surprisingly, even after all of these questions seem to be resolved, the film has one more shock in store for the audience. All of this film's faults are forgotten in the last five minutes, and it features one of the best endings in memory.

Most of the film is spent exploring Osment's relationship with his psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Willis). Crowe is a self-sacrificing, devoted child psychologist with a beautiful wife, a big house in the good part of Philadelphia and an incredible wine cellar.

Willis delivers a solid, low-key performance. It would have been easy for him to go over the top, as he becomes increasingly desperate to find a way to cure the boy. He has a special motivation for finding a way to cure Cole, as the last patient he had with Cole's symptoms ended up breaking into his house in the dead of night, stripping down to his underwear and shooting Crowe.

Appropriately, this pathetic individual is played by Donnie Wahlberg, formerly of the New Kids on the Block.

This shooting not only gives Willis his motivation, but seems to be the beginning of the end for his marriage to British beauty Olivia Williams ("Rushmore" and "The Postman," though everyone would rather forget about that last one).

The disintegration of their marriage is the poorest aspect of M. Night Shyamalan's script, though it does provide some scenes of unintentional humor. Halfway through the movie, Willis rushes into a restaurant to meet his wife. "Sorry I'm late," he explains "I thought it was the other Italian restaurant I asked you to marry me in." Ouch.

Toni Collette rounds out the cast as Cole's beleaguered mother. She does well portraying a woman desperate to find out what is wrong with her son, but doesn't spend the entire movie complaining. Rather, she brings in a great deal of the feistiness she displayed in "Clockwatchers," and succeeds in rounding out what could easily have been a flat, annoying character.

Even at 11, Osment has an impressive resum­. Not only was he Forrest Jr. in "Forrest Gump," but also Murphy Brown's son on the long-running sitcom. He was also that dying kid who wanted to sue God on "Ally McBeal," one of the kids on the late "Jeff Foxworthy Show" and Chip in one of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" movies. Makes you wonder if there are any other child actors in Hollywood.

Shyamalan has an excellent coalition of actors to bring life to the film he both wrote and directed. He gives them ample room to play, by trying to communicate the horror happening with this little boy through the actor's facial expressions and body language rather than special effects.

Surprisingly, the most annoying characters in the movie are the ghosts haunting Cole. We don't see them for the better part of the movie, but when they do show up, they don't really do anything scary. Rather, they just kind of walk around shouting at the poor kid.

Anything that is wrong with this movie, though, is compensated for by the incredible surprise ending. This is one of the few recent movies not afraid to throw a "Crying Game"-league curveball at the viewer in the last five minutes. It is well worth the wait.