Monday, June 18, 2007

I See Dead People

No, really I do! Or maybe I've just been seeing Haley Joel Osment a lot. Seriously, I can't believe it. In the past couple of weeks, by some odd twist of chance, I've happened across his three major hit movies. And I saw them in reverse chronological order (of when they were released), I might add: A.I. (2001), Pay It Forward (2000), and The Sixth Sense (1999). Regardless, they're still 6-8 years old which just shows how up-to-date I am on current movies.

But wow, the boy can act! Every one of these performances was absolutely spectacular. His vivid character portrayals even made me stick with an otherwise excruciatingly long, surreal A.I. for the full 146 minutes (wow was that really how long it was -- it felt like 180 at least, even longer than Lord of the Rings). His role as David, the "Mecha" robot child that can love, in A.I. was the first one I saw him in. It was certainly a moving portrayal -- David's innocence and naivete was a refreshing contrast especially against the snarky character of Jake Thomas, his organic brother (who I shall always remember as Lizzie McGuire's little brother). Besides, it's a space-age Pinocchio, and that certainly has its appeal as well. Osment's acting made David, as a robot, appear more human than many of the "real" humans in the movie, especially Brendan Gleeson's (of Harry Potter Mad-Eye Moody fame) crazy character at the inhumane flesh fair. And unlike in the other two movies, Osment is really the sole leading actor in this film -- there is no main old actor counterpart. Perhaps because of this prolonged focus, Osment's acting was even more remarkable in that he was able to pull the movie along with him.

While I loved his character in A.I., my personal favorite was his role as Trevor McKinney in Pay It Forward. Here he is complemented by the duo of Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. But Osment is not one to be overshadowed and again delivers an extraordinary performance that makes him stand out. The concept behind the movie is quite intriguing in its own right. Trevor's 'pay it forward' concept puts an enormous faith in human goodness. He pays a complete stranger a favor and then instead of asking him to pay it back, asks him to pay it forward to three other people. And voila, we get a branching effect, (one could call it a 'favor tree' with 3^n 'favor leaves' at depth n). Osment perfectly captures the essence of his character again -- the shy, deeply emotional and intelligent boy. Osment really speaks to the audience with his eyes and his facial expressions. And the ending, well let's just say it's tragic and you have to see it for yourself *tear*.

That brings us to the final movie I watched, his breakthrough movie, The Sixth Sense. Though attentive movie-goers would have remembered Osment from his brief appearance as Tom Hank's son in Forrest Gump, this was the movie that first brought him to widespread recognition. And what a complex character Osment takes on in this movie! His interactions with Bruce Willis' character are really the center-piece of the movie. Osment's character speaks candidly and openly which is heartening when artifice and artificiality is the norm. The things that I loved about his performance in Pay It Forward - his facial expressions, his way of speaking to the audience with his eyes - drew me to his character again. Of course, the "I see dead people" line has become a cult favorite. But the scene I liked the most is when Osment and Willis are talking in the hallway of his school. Osment speaks with almost disturbing clarity, "You ever feel the prickly things on the back of your neck?...And the tiny hairs on your arm, you know when they stand up?". That scene epitomizes for me what makes his acting so great. It was well-deserving of the Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The movie is truly driven by the human emotions and superb acting of Osment and Willis. But "Tommy Tammisimo sucked big time".

Well, I'm certainly looking forward to his future movies and to see how he matures as an actor. :)

-- Arkajit

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