#295. M. Night Shyamalan

Being a recognizable name in Hollywood is sometimes a double-edged sword. If an actor’s name is recognizable, most people will usually know what type of movie the actor appears in and will either attend or avoid accordingly. The challenge with this is sometimes actors will branch out into different genres, thus making the name recognition a little unreliable. Directors, however, are usually pretty consistent with their genres and styles. While this can help give audiences an indication as to whether or not they’d want to see a movie or not, sometimes a running track record for a director can help them gain ticket sales, especially after a particularly well-received film. Unfortunately, what if a director peaked after their second or third film? This week’s two films will examine the early, successful films of M. Night Shyamalan.

The Sixth SenseThe Sixth Sense
Year: 1999
Rating: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

Even though Shyamalan directed two films before The Sixth Sense (1999), neither Praying with Anger (1992) or Wide Awake (1998) gave him the recognition The Sixth Sense did. Consequently, most consider The Sixth Sense to be his “first” film insomuch as it was his breakthrough into Hollywood. While it did not win any Oscars, it was nominated for six. M. Night Shyamalan could have walked away with Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, along with his film winning Best Picture, if it were not for American Beauty (1999). Nevertheless, The Sixth Sense has remained a key part of American popular culture, ranking at #89 of the American Film Institute’s latest list of the top 100 films. It is clear from this film; many people had high hopes for the future directorial efforts of M. Night Shyamalan.

Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) finds himself hesitant to continue his job as a child psychologist after a former patient of his claimed Malcom failed him and shot the doctor as a result. However, when Dr. Crowe comes across Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) and recognizes many traits of his former patient, he decides it’s time to try again. While the former patient suffered from hallucinations, Cole admits to seeing dead people, even if said dead people don’t realize they’re dead. Through Malcom’s encouragement, Cole helps a young girl obtain closure for her wrongful death. Cole even gains enough confidence to return to school, as well as admit to his mother that his gift has allowed him to communicate with his dead grandmother. Feeling his work with Cole is now complete, Malcom returns home to his wife only to discover that she has moved on from him; the twist comes in revealing why.

Unbreakable
Year: 2000
Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours

Because of the strong twist ending in The Sixth Sense, people were not surprised when his next film, Unbreakable (2000), had a twist ending as well. In fact, even the film after that, Signs (2002), had a twist for an ending. Some would consider Signs to be his last successful film, as the expectation of a twist ending would haunt his next many films. Critical reception of Shyamalan’s films sharply dropped over the next decade, with such flops as The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013) earning him more Golden Raspberries than Oscar statues. Despite his name being tied to disappointment after disappointment, he eventually found the core of his success again with The Visit (2015) and this year’s Split (2017). Perhaps now we can expect great films from M. Night Shyamalan once again.

In a stroke of what could only be unfortunate luck, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) finds himself the sole survivor of a train wreck that killed every other passenger on board, but left him without a scratch. Through this tragic event, he is sought out by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a collector of rare comic books who was intrigued by David’s survival. Elijah posits the theory that, since he has a rare disease which makes his bones fragile, someone out there must possess the opposite physical flaw. David initially scoffs at Elijah’s hypothesis that he is an indestructible superhero, but once he begins to test this theory, he finds he’s stronger than he ever imagined. Suddenly, incidents from David’s past have deeper meaning. Elijah encourages David to explore some of his superpowers, which eventually leads the hero to learn of the sinister force behind some of the tragic events in his life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Shyamalan sensations

Bacon #: 2 (Split (directed) / James McAvoy -> X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)

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#294. Haley Joel Osment

Have you ever noticed how some actors come in and out of relevance? Sometimes these actors use their success in one medium, like Television, to jump the gap to another medium, like movies. While I can’t say I’ve ever seen any Game of Thrones, I’ve seen plenty of the actors from it in a variety of different films. Even within the realm of cinema, an actor seems to be in almost everything for a couple of years, then fades into obscurity. Often, this is linked to receiving an Academy Award for acting, as they have now proven their merits as an actor, thus making them desirable for marketing purposes for other films. Sometimes this is due to a certain “look” an actor can provide, and once they change it (or grow out of it) they have trouble regaining their former glory. This week’s two films examine the former relevance of Haley Joel Osment.

Secondhand LionsSecondhand Lions
Year: 2003
Rating: PG
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours

From 1994 to 2003, Haley Joel Osment was relevant in the realm of cinema. His first appearance on film as Forrest Gump Jr. in Forrest Gump (1994) gave him the springboard he needed to eventually star in other films. While his success as an actor came with The Sixth Sense (1999), he also had many notable performances, including the society-changing Trevor McKinney in Pay it Forward (2000). While Osment took two 3-year hiatuses, none of his recent films have captured that youthful charm that people recognized from his first decade of acting. Of course, perhaps his voice acting work, which he performed while in relevance as well as afterward, was merely his next medium. In fact, most people who have played any of the Kingdom Hearts video games will recognize his voice as that of the main character, Sora.

Walter Caldwell (Haley Joel Osment) finds himself abandoned by his mother when he arrives at the home of his great uncles, Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine). These brothers are leery of Walter, as they suspect he has been dumped on them to gain access to their rumored fortune. The crotchety old men eventually warm up to the teenager as he helps them acquire items to make their life a little more interesting. Due to their developing relationship, Walt learns the truth of his great uncles’ adventures might not be so far from the rumors’ claims. When his mother appears again, with a scoundrel boyfriend in tow, she tries to use Walter to gain access to the brothers’ fortune. However, an old lioness that Hub bought and was accidentally released into the cornfield comes to Walt’s rescue, thus solidifying Hub and Garth’s relationship with the boy as his guardians.

The Sixth SenseThe Sixth Sense
Year: 1999
Rating: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

By now, we all know Haley Joel Osment’s most famous line from The Sixth Sense (1999), “I see dead people.” This line, along with his performance in the film, cemented him as one of the premier child actors of his time. In fact, his nomination for Best Supporting Actor only helped him to secure future film roles with big directors like Steven Spielberg, eventually appearing in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). Of course, as is the fate of most child actors, puberty set in and his relevance changed. It’s a little weird to see an actor who used to be that baby-faced, token child in a film now with a beard and a couple extra pounds on their frame. Still, Osment has continued to work in cinema, even if the films he’s appearing in now aren’t nearly as notable or critically acclaimed as they once used to be.

The eponymous “Sixth Sense” of this film is held by none other than Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). He admits to be able to see the ghosts of dead people walking around as if they were alive. This admission is to Dr. Malcom Crowe (Bruce Willis), a child psychologist who failed a former patient and was shot as a result. Cole uses his ability to help the ghosts attain a sense of closure with the world they left behind. With Dr. Crowe’s help, Cole reveals the true cause of the death of a young girl, thus saving the girl’s younger sister in the process. Despite the constant presence of ghosts in his life, Cole accepts the responsibility and begins to enjoy his life. After telling his mother of his ability, she is initially skeptical, but is convinced when he reveals details of her life and interactions with his dead grandmother. Meanwhile, Dr. Crowe comes to a shocking revelation of his own.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 heyday roles for Haley Joel Osment

Bacon #: 2 (Forrest Gump / Tom Hanks -> Apollo 13 / Kevin Bacon)