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A graceful adagio of a movie with a devastatingly intelligent script and exquisite performances, Sixth Sense delivers the most haunting movie experience of the summer. 

Sixth Sense opens with Philadelphia child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) at the top of his world. Recently honored by the mayor for his heroic work with troubled children, Malcolm plans an intimate celebration with his wife (Olivia Williams). But a grown-up child (Donnie Wahlberg) that Malcolm couldn't help breaks into the couple's home, shoots Malcolm, then turns the gun himself. 

When we meet Malcolm again a year later, he seems a shadow of his former self. He can't connect with his wife and suspects her of having an affair, although she watches their wedding video obsessively. His once-thriving practice has dwindled to a single case: Cole Sears (Haley Joel Osment), a preternaturally solemn child whose fears and symptoms remind Malcolm of his attacker's. 

This time, Malcolm refuses to make the easy diagnoses. Malcolm pores over his books, revisits his attacker's case and risks what remains of his marriage to understand why Cole pilfers devotional statues and hides under a red bedspread tent in his room. Yet when Cole finally explains that he sees dead people, Malcolm almost dismisses it. Almost.  

No one plays the beleaguered Everyman like Willis. And in this case, his clever, hang-dog face and New Jersey accent look and sound just right for the part. Toni Collette, as Cole's overburdened but game single mom, likewise manages to capture the South Philadelphia look and sound without ever lapsing into caricature. 

But highest praise must go to Osment for his superb portrayal of a bright, decent, little kid trapped in an impossible situation. He carries the movie on his thin shoulders and never falters. 

Neither does writer/director M. Night Syamalan. People talk a lot about authorial or directorial control, but you seldom see it in action. Sixth Sense flows like the very best slow music and never plays a single wrong note. Each word, each image proves itself critical to a plot which ultimately twists back on itself like a Möbius strip to create one of the few truly surprising endings in the history of film.  

When you consider Syamalan is still in his twenties, the command of his material he demonstrates in Sixth Sense approaches the miraculous. This reviewer can't wait to see what he tackles next, and where he will grow from there. 

Jean Marie Ward

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