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MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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(also read the DVD review by Matt Anderson)

People have said they appreciate a warning when a movie ought to be seen without any foreknowledge — when a review might somehow take away from the experience. I recommend The Sixth Sense pretty strongly, and it is a movie that’s better if you don’t know too much about it. If you think you might see it, don’t read any reviews until afterwards.

Continue reading at your own risk.

The Sixth Sense may look like a horror movie, but it isn’t one. The mood is tense, but never outright frightening. The movie is not so much a horror movie as a psychological, supernatural thriller.

Bruce Willis haunts the Sixth SenseCole (Haley Joel Osment, age 11 — he played Forrest Gump Jr.) is in a constant state of fear: he is withdrawn, he wakes up screaming, he shows signs of possibly self-inflicted scratches and scars. He has a secret that he keeps from his mother (Toni Collette, of “Muriel’s Wedding”), so she is unable to help with, much less understand, Cole’s condition. Their best hope for Cole is Dr. Malcolm Crowe.

Dr. Crowe (Bruce Willis) is Philadelphia’s best child psychologist. He saw a case remarkably like Cole’s once before, but in the end, he couldn’t help the patient. This time, however, he is determined to succeed.

Dr. Crowe slowly builds trust in Cole, through psychological insight, through humor, through constant attention. He is finally able to win Cole’s complete trust by baring his own soul: Crowe admits he’s afraid to lose his wife because of his obsession with Cole’s case. Cole finally confides in the doctor and tells his secret: he can see ghosts.

These undead souls are everywhere, in the physically gruesome state of their deaths. Cole is wakened by them, terrorized by them, and sometimes even assaulted by them. Dr. Crowe’s job suddenly moves way out of his league, but his promises to Cole and Cole’s hard-won trust lock him in to finishing the job, to doing what he can to help the kid cope.

The film is not perfect, but it is pretty darn good. Shyamalan’s direction is tightly controlled and very well executed. Willis breaks from his tough-guy image and gives a surprisingly sensitive performance. Osment is above average for a child actor, and he portrays fear expertly (although his performance is a little uneven at times.)

But the best thing about the movie is not an individual trait. It is that all the elements come together to produce the eerie atmosphere that empathizes with the haunted child. The movie is shot under overcast skies and cold, fluorescent lights. When night comes and Cole tenses with fear, the audience tenses with him. The ghosts are rarely glimpsed, and never for more than a creepy instant. We share Cole’s hope that Crowe can help, and his gray acceptance that he probably can’t.

As I said, the film is not perfect. The introduction to Malcolm and his wife is disgracefully clunky, and the ending is uneven, particularly compared with the level tension of the rest of the film, but neither ruined the picture, not by any means.

Look for this movie on my 1999 top ten list.