Before The Sixth Sense, 29-year-old writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's most famous movie was the Rosie O'Donnell vehicle Wide Awake. Bruce Willis has made his share of disappointing films, one of the most recent of which has him befriending a gifted child. This year's other studio ghost story, The Haunting, is terrible. But forget all that for a moment and give The Sixth Sense the chance it deserves. Willis stars as a Philadelphia psychologist who, shortly after receiving an award for his work with children, is confronted in his home by a disturbed former patient (Donnie Wahlberg), who feels Willis failed him. A year later, he encounters a child (Haley Joel Osment) who reminds him of Wahlberg, a boy who eventually reveals he has some traffic with the supernatural. Though not without some genuinely frightening moments, The Sixth Sense is less a horror film than a moody piece of magic realism. Shyamalan's approach, composed largely of Kubrickian extended takes, has a sense of purpose and an artful construction that respects both its story and its audience, allowing both to take their time sorting things out. It's a style that also brings out the best in its cast; Willis has rarely been better, and both Olivia Williams (as Willis' wife) and Toni Collette (as Osment's overworked, deeply concerned mother) turn in convincing performances. Also great—and had he not been, the film would have been ruined—is Osment, whose unrelenting gravity and ability to convey sadness beyond his years threatens to give a good name to child actors. The Sixth Sense teeters on the brink of New Age ludicrousness, but it never goes over: Like Kieslowski and others, Shyamalan knows that what makes for lousy metaphysics can make for powerful metaphor, and in the end he creates a deeply, surprisingly affecting film out of a little bit of smoke and brimstone.
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