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THE SIXTH SENSE

by: Michael Dequina

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 The Sixth Sense.

RATING: *** (out of *****)

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