If a movie is only as good as its ending, then _The_Sixth_Sense_, with
its boffo, perception-altering shock of a conclusion, should be one of
the best thrillers in recent years. But that closing stroke of genius
cannot add a much-needed layer of interest and urgency to the talky tale
that serves as the twist's slow-going lead-in.
That said, that bulk of _The_Sixth_Sense_ plays better than its
individual parts would lead one to believe. Bruce Willis stars as
psychologist Malcolm Crowe, and the last time he played someone in the
field of psychoanalysis was in that notoriously unerotic thriller
_Color_of_Night_. Malcolm is also happens to be a _child_ psychologist,
meaning Willis plays most of his scenes alongside a boy... not unlike
last year's boring flop, _Mercury_Rising_.
The key difference with _The_Sixth_Sense_ is that writer-director M.
Night Shyamalan has given Willis and his cast something to work with.
While that "something" isn't always effective, it is certainly sturdier
than those other films. A year after getting shot by a former patient
(who then shot himself), Malcolm takes up the case of Cole Sear (Haley
Joel Osment), a troubled 8-year-old who exhibits some of Malcolm's
deceased patient's symptoms. But the root of Cole's trouble goes beyond
divorced parents and an unstable home: he has the ability to see ghosts.
While _The_Sixth_Sense_ does feature its share of shock sequences where
Cole is visited by (often bleeding) phantoms, Shyamalan's main interest
isn't necessarily scaring the audience. He seems more concerned with the
troubled relationships: that between Malcolm and Cole and the more
troubled ones between Cole and his mother (Toni Collette) and Malcolm and
his wife (Olivia Williams, sadly underused). The performances,
particularly Osment and the versatile Collette's, go a long way in making
the drama believable and sometimes affecting; Willis even comes off well
in an uncharacteristically subdued turn.
The problem lies with Shyamalan's plodding pacing. The film follows a
predictable rhythm of having a long series of patience-testing
dialogue-heavy scenes followed by a "shock" scene, momentarily jolting
the audience back into alertness before sent back into a haze by the next
series of dialogue scenes. Shyamalan would have been wise to do some
much-needed tightening to his script, which could have lost a number of
these talky scenes to no ill effect whatsoever.
Shyamalan must be given credit, however, for writing and pulling off
such a terrific surprise ending. It's a testament to his skill as a
director that the important clues he drops are barely noticeable en route
to the conclusion, which consequently does not feel like a cheap gimmick;
in fact, it nicely ties together the weightier themes the film addresses.
Alas, as inspired as it is, the twist is too little, too late, and
cannot completely redeem the far less interesting remainder of