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April 2000


Rated: PG-13

CAST: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton

DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan


Haley Joel Osment, best known until now as Forrest Gump Jr., plays a gifted young boy named Cole Sear, known popularly by his classmates as "Freak." Cole has the unique gift of being able to see dead people as if they are alive and walking among us. This gift brings him into contact with psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis). In Cole, Crowe sees a chance to redeem himself for the perceived failure he feels after one of his disgruntled patients took out a grudge by shooting Crowe and killing himself.


"The Sixth Sense" is one of those movies that gets you thinking. As the film plays, you find yourself feverishly keeping score of all the subtle little hints and clues that may or may not end up coming into play later on, and even after it's done, your mind wanders back again. And again. And again. You keep trying to figure out when the filmmakers might have dropped the ball and given themselves away. But it's not to be found. That alone is why it was a breath of fresh air to this critic. "The Sixth Sense" stands head-and-shoulders above any number of recent Hollywood thrillers, and is easily one of the best films of the summer.

Like Crowe, we are clued in early on that there's something…different about the boy, yet we're made to play the same guessing game as the psychologist. Fear seems to hang in very the air, with the dreary dull skies of Philadelphia seemingly tied into the boy's malaise. There are moments in "the Sixth Sense" that inspire genuine dread. Not the fear of some assorted grotesquerie we see on the screen, but rather the ominous tingle that travels down our spine when something unknown approaches.

The wholly real and believable bond between boy and doctor is only part of what helps lend credibility to the unbelievable. Osment never regresses into the tried-and-true "Hollywood kid," and instead manages to more than hold his own against his above-the-line co-star. Willis too is in fine form here. I remember writing of "Armageddon" that he was the glue holding the entire ode to THX together, and similar comments apply here. Willis plays Crowe as a tortured and all-too human protagonist, and his trauma dealing with not only his inability to help his young charge but his wife's possible infidelity ring true.

The film marks the sophomore effort from director K. Night Shyamalan, and his analytical way of having the camera pan and zoom and rush across the sets allows us the chance to take in every last detail, scouring for the "plants." That is, those little hints the filmmakers always drop early on that will be brought out later on. Hitchcock used to talk about his McGuffins, false leads placed in the film with the express purpose of throwing us off. Like any student of post-Hitchcock film, I kept searching for the McGuffins in "The Sixth Sense" and actually I still am.

The film's coda seems the perfect summation to everything we have seen in the previous 107 minutes, at once wrenching and cathartic. I hesitate to say much of anything, for fear of what I might reveal.


"The Sixth Sense" is riveting viewing without its ending, but with, it becomes one of those great movies that will no doubt come to be remembered in years to come as a triumph of technique and storytelling. Hitch would be proud.

Zaki Hasan of
Final Cut