Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Sixth Sense

Year: 1999
Running time: 107 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg

Cole Sear: Even frightened of dead pencils.
M. Night Shyamalan was once considered to be the stylistic heir of both Spielberg and Hitchcock, and that reputation was built, mostly, on the back of a single film; The Sixth Sense. While it’s largely considered he’s made every film since then in an effort to undermine that reputation, I consider Unbreakable, Signs and, to a lesser extent The Village to be somewhat more than mere failed attempts to repeat the trick of The Sixth Sense. Much is made of the twist (and indeed, the subsequently less impressive twists in the following films) but Shyamalan, and The Sixth Sense in particular, is much more than a big finale.

Bruce Willis is Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist who is shot by bitter ex-patient Vincent Grey (Donnie Wahlberg), whom he once failed to help. At some undisclosed later date, he begins to work with Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a rather troubled boy being brought up by his single mother Lynne (Toni Collette). It seems that young Cole can see ghosts. All the time. He is constantly terrified, always distracted and cannot even begin to explain his problems to anybody else. Little by little, Crowe convinces him to open up, and even comes to believe him.

The mood established by Shyamalan is very effective – there is a real sense of simmering terror, Cole's life presented as just one nerve-wracking wait between frightening encounters. One thing I tend to really appreciate in films is slow pacing, and I think I may be in the minority here. The oft-levelled criticism ‘It starts a bit slow’ will make me want to see a film more, not less. I think this is why I held out for Shyamalan for a good deal longer than others (although even I have trouble defending anything following The Village). The Sixth Sense is fairly steadily paced, with the impressively scary set pieces feeling like bursts of dizzying energy between slow-burning character development. Unbreakable and Signs are slower still and The Village is positively glacial. The camera moves steadily in Shyamalan’s films – little or no handheld jerkiness here. I love being able to lose myself in the details, appreciating the often beautifully and precisely constructed scenes.

The scenes in which Cole sees the ghosts are well done, and it’s easy to see where the Spielberg and Hitchcock comparisons came from. The change of colour scheme (where there are ghosts, there is red) is a nice touch, and the scenes are good deal more frightening than expected, thanks to both Shyamalan’s grasp of mood and tension and Osment’s impressive acting.

Cole and Malcolm develop an unlikely bond.
Also impressive is Willis in a role that deprived him of his trademark smirk and showed beyond doubt that he can act when he has a mind to. When the twist hits, and the realisation of what Cole has known all along comes, Willis manages to nail the right tone of heartbroken disbelief followed by relieved acceptance with ease. The twist itself is a blinder, and I remember that I got it at a very odd moment – during a shot of Cole playing with a wooden sword near a window. When it dawned on me I felt a great deal of admiration for the way in which it was put together and watching it back it really does do a great job of allowing the viewer to mislead themselves by misunderstanding the clues left throughout and doesn’t genuinely deceive, although on second viewing I did wonder why I didn't see it coming from a mile away. Twists of that nature are much more satisfying when compared to the twist in, say Ocean’s 12, which makes the viewer feel cheated as though they were one of Danny Ocean’s gullible marks. As mentioned however, the film is more than its twist and would’ve still been a decent watch without it.

An impressively creepy effort that Shyamalan has been unable to match with subsequent films; it’s a shame such promise seems to have gone to waste.

Score: 8/10

The Sixth Sense is slated in this interesting review by James while Gary thinks much the same as I do.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Public Enemies

Year: 2009
Running time: 140 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann, Ann Biderman
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard

John Dillinger: Confident audacity.
Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, the tale of legendary bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), the FBI agent given the task of taking him down is awash with authenticity. Clothes, architecture, cars, accents, everything is meticulously recreated to precisely ape 1933. Even the rat-a-tat-tat of the gunfire is accurately replicated in exact detail. For some reason I find difficult to pin down, it left me a little cold, despite its carefully crafted authenticity.

There is plenty here to like. Johnny Depp is on his usual fine form as Dillinger, playing the charismatic criminal with style to spare, entirely believably sweeping Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) off her feet with a couple of lines: "I was raised on a farm in Moooresville, Indiana. My mama ran out on us when I was three, my daddy beat the hell out of me cause he didn't know no better way to raise me. I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars, whiskey, and you... what else you need to know?" Christian Bale also impresses as Purvis, the FBI agent placed on Dillinger’s trail by Bureau founder J. Edgar Hoover himself (Billy Crudup). Even though Dillinger is supposedly the villain, it’s the cold-blooded Purvis who disturbs, tracking Dillinger with a relentless single-minded intensity, caring little for anyone caught in the crossfire of the ferocious gun battles. Dillinger is actually a far more likable character, Depp capturing the confidence and sheer audacity of the fast living bank robber beautifully, never more so than in the scene where he visits a police station to peruse the investigation into his own manhunt while the officers are all absorbed in a ball game.

Keeping an eye out for the Feds.
Mann films the action using cutting edge high quality digital cameras, and I wonder whether this is one of the things that turns me off. While the imagery is undeniably crystal clear and the soundtrack wonderfully sharp, it feels at times like you’re watching a very well made amateur production using handheld digital cameras. This is a little unfair of me to be honest (it is Michael Mann after all, not amateur by any stretch of the imagination), but it is honestly how it strikes me. While the intention would appear to have been to place the viewer in the thick of the action like never before, for me it lost something, something that makes film feel cinematic.

While Public Enemies is undeniably high quality, for some reason it failed to set my world alight. Still worth a watch though.

Score: 6/10

Ian at Empire rather over-rates it in my opinion, as does Roger Ebert.