Mercury Rising The Sixth Sense

<i>The Sixth Sense</i>
The Sixth Sense

Mercury Rising

D: Harold Becker (1998); with Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Miko Hughes, Chi McBride, Kim Dickens, Robert Stanton, Bodhi Pine Elfman.

The Sixth Sense

D: M. Night Shyamalan (1999); with Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Trevor Morgan, Donnie Wahlberg. Bruce Willis certainly has a way with children. A couple of times, recently, my nine-year-old has engaged me on the topic of just what a fine actor Willis is, and why doesn't he get more respect? My son cites the range of films Willis has been in -- from Die Hard to Fifth Element to 12 Monkeys to The Sixth Sense. He usually mentions Pulp Fiction (though he hasn't seen it). To him, it's obvious: We're talking movie star here. The real Bruce Willis got into a tangle with our friend Jon Pierson's Independent Film Channel show Split Screen that revealed a pure megalomanical Hollywood star. Forget real life -- up on the screen, Willis is dexterous and skilled. The kind of actor who makes every character seem so completely him that it doesn't look like acting.

Mercury Rising has such an inspired beginning and premise for such a lame ending. Simon (Hughes), an autistic child, cracks a super-secret "uncrackable" National Security Agency code. They've given it a we-know-no-one-can-break-this-code run in a general distribution puzzle magazine, and the kid does. Agent in charge Nicholas Kudrow (Baldwin) decides the child has to be eliminated. They get his parents, but before they can get to the child, semi-disgraced FBI agent Art Jeffries (Willis) takes him under his wing. The early buildup is classic suspense followed by an all-too-classic, mindless Hollywood action ending. By the end, the shoot-'em-up makes no sense, but there's a lot of chilling footage on the way there. Have fun.

The Sixth Sense is about a psychiatrist who helps a young child who talks to dead people. It is a modern classic, a fully realized, fully textured original work. This deserves a longer review than it's going to get here, but I just rewatched both these films recently and was struck by Willis' performances. Willis drives both these films in very different performances that are also similar. His characters are troubled but decisive, moody but good-humored. But the beauty is in the details. Humphrey Bogart-like, he defines both these characters in a way that makes them totally different. Willis is only now beginning to get his due (film critic Elvis Mitchell wrote a fine piece in The New York Times). If you've always dismissed Willis, start here with one good movie and one bad. Watch and see how Willis is among those uncanny screen actors, such as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, who are always dismissed as just being themselves, while turning in beautifully detailed performances.

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