Release Date: 1999
Director: M. Night Shaymalan
Why I picked this: …I’ve only seen the last half hour, okay?
It was hard to watch already knowing the ending, but the writing, directing, and acting created a suspenseful atmosphere that made the entire experience of watching this film worthwhile. The movie has a very patient and rewarding style; scenes are slow, yet still engaging, and information is revealed at a nice pace and fashion. “Show, don’t tell” is probably the most important trait that visual media should have, and this movie is perfect in this regard. I loved how the characters were framed by parts of the environment, I loved the subtle foreshadowing, and I especially loved the use of the color red, which makes more sense after the movie’s end. The camera is still when focusing on characters, and when it moves, it moves slowly. The camera pans slowly from person to person as each character takes their turn speaking during a conversation; conversations staged like this are sort of like a game or a struggle between the characters speaking. And while this movie isn’t necessarily a horror film, there are some frightening images and jump scares, but none of this feels cheap. They are more to unsettle rather than to scare. The film revolves around child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe, played by Bruce Willis, who after being shot by a former patient, Vincent Gray, played by Donnie Walhberg, finds himself in a slump in both his personal and professional lives. He takes young child Cole Sear, played by Haley Joel Osment as a patient, as Cole reminds him of Crowe’s Vincent, whom he failed to help. Willis is great in this understated role of his, but Osment’s performance is the best in the film. Cole is a troubled youth, with no friends and strange behavior. Cole says unsettling things that have led his peers to see him as a freak, and he has a problem that is not made clear until halfway through the film, demonstrating the steady release of information in the film. But Osment portrays Cole as thoughtful, mature, and aware, even though he suppresses his thoughts. Cole is skeptical about Crowe being able to help him, but the dynamic between them changes progressively. Crowe feels that he must help this child to make up for his failure with his Vincent, but at the same time, must repair his relationship with his wife, played by Olivia Williams. Actress Toni Collette makes a great turn as Cole’s mother, Lynn. She is concerned, but still very loving; she constantly reaffirms to her son that there is nothing wrong between the two of them, despite his apparent erratic behavior. A scene between Cole and his mother made for one of the most emotional scenes I’ve seen in recent memory. This movie has various themes; Malcolm Crowe attempts to redeem himself, while balancing his personal and professional lives. Crowe and Cole’s trust for each other grows, and they both begin to help each other, with Cole finally confiding in Crowe, and Crowe accepting Cole’s help with his wife. And later in the movie, Cole discovers that he has a higher calling that he accepts. Overall, this is a very well crafted film, but be observant, as you may be tricked.
Slow, patient, and engaging, this is an emotional, suspenseful, and occasionally frightening movie with one of the best child actor performances ever, along with having one the best endings ever.