DECEMBER 2, 2009
The summer of 1999 was rare in that for once I wasn’t one of the few people attending a Bruce Willis movie (I’ve seen more of his films in theaters than any other actor ever). As big of a star as he is, you’d probably be surprised to see how few of his movies gross more than 50 million dollars, with many of them falling far below that range. In fact, The Sixth Sense is his only 200+ million grosser besides my beloved Armageddon, which means that, thanks to the Harry Potter films, Hans Gruber actually has more films in the all time list than John McClane.
Oddly, like Armageddon, Sense didn’t really open to amazing business (for a summer film), but had good worth of mouth that carried it through the summer/fall seasons. You see a lot of summer movies making nearly half their money in their first weekend and then sinking like a stone, but Sense just kept packing them in week after week, due to the twist (which was surprisingly kept a secret for quite a long time) and the fact that it’s simply a damn good movie.
And it holds up! Obviously, you watch the movie now saying “how did I not notice that he wasn’t actually talking to anyone?”*, but it’s still an engaging and creepy thriller, with terrific acting across the board (even Willis put more effort into it than usual) and even some weep-worthy moments, particularly Bruce’s final moment with his wife. And this was back when the twist ending actually made sense in the context of the film, so it’s a high point for M. Night Shyamalan as well.
As I said in my review of The Happening, M. Night is a terrific director, but a shitty writer. Even Sense went through a whole bunch of rewriting (by him, to be fair) in order to get it into shape (it was once about a serial killer), and his scripts have just gotten progressively worse (Happening is a better movie than Lady of the Water simply on the strength of its sheer idiocy). Even though Unbreakable is a better example, I noticed this time around that Sense had a lot of his trademark direction already in place - long takes, odd camera angles (love the fact that most of Willis’ first scene is shot in the reflection of a plaque propped against a coffee table), and an unnerving quiet that made more sense here than in some of his other films. As you re-watch the film, some of the script’s problems are more apparent (such as a few plot holes - how did Willis know about the kid’s free association writing that the mom found? Did she tell him?), but it’s a credit to his directing skill that the film remains as engaging as it is.
He also managed to make Toni Collette look hot, so props for that.
The episodic structure also works to its favor. As I mentioned, it was originally written as a serial killer thing, and I don’t think the movie would work at all if there was any sort of overreaching plot involving the supernatural stuff. Its strength lies in the relationship between Cole and Malcolm and how each helps the other overcome their own personal issue. A serial killer, or some reappearing ghost, would just obscure that focus. Plus, having a few “mini-stories” with ghosts (i.e. the Mischa Barton/mother poisoning her daughter segment) allows the spooky stuff to keep popping up at a steady rate while always keeping the focus on Cole and Malcolm.
I had also forgotten how unnerving that scene was, with the dad (and most of the family) watching this video that starts off with this cute little puppet show and turns into the most horrifying thing a man could imagine - that he can no longer nail his hot wife on the moral grounds that she killed his daughter. And all the family members who watched the video are standing around glaring at her while she tends to other guests... AWKWARD! And all because no one bothered to ask why the little kid that no one recognized was walking around “by himself” and going through their things.
The DVD seems packed, but it’s all fluffy crap. M. Night provides no commentary track, but he DOES offer a full 5 minute “conversation” where he mainly just brags about the film’s box office performance, comparing it to Titanic every chance he gets. So I guess it’s probably for the best that we are spared listening to him for 105 minutes. The rest of the stuff is too short to be of much use (some of the featurettes only run a minute), and the deleted scenes are largely inconsequential, though the extended ending is worth a look if you enjoy seeing Willis actually act for once. There’s also a little piece about the “rules” that is worth watching if you haven’t figured them out for yourself yet, such as red = ghost, or that Willis can only wear clothes that he touched the night of his death, (which seems like an odd rule to give a ghost. What if he worked at a clothing store?). Haley Joel Osment barely appears on any of this stuff, which is a bit odd considering his top-notch (Oscar nominated) performance. I think there was a double dip of the film a few years later, but I can’t recall the specifics. If I actually had time to watch it again in the next 10 years (note the last time I watched it at the top of the review - and this is one of my favorite movies AND it stars my idol) I’d pick it up on Blu-Ray, but alas by the time I get around to watching it again something even better will be available.
What say you?
*My dad would often have trouble with movies where someone turned out to be a double agent or undercover cop or whatever and have to re-watch them in order to get it. Yet like 20 minutes into Sixth Sense, he was like “He’s a ghost!”. So awesome.