Haley Joel Osment received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense.
Haley Joel Osment portrays the boy who sees dead people. Child actors can be a lot of things one is under actors who seem sometimes to be reading their lines right off cue cards for the very first time, or they can be the overactive sort who rely on the worst type of antics possible just to try to convey some sort of attitude. Osment though does not fall into either of these categories and completely avoids any sort of the troubles or bad acting that can easily result from a bad child actor.
It has been said this performance is a bit of category fraud but it is not that bad of a case of it since at least there is another lead, and he is missing from several scenes that focus on Bruce Willis' character. Nevertheless though this is a strong performance whether it is truly supporting or leading because Haley Joel Osment doesn't just avoid any of the flaws of a child performance but instead actually gives a great performance no matter what the age of the performer.
Osment's Cole is troubled from his first scene and Osment is excellent in these moments rather quietly portraying the fear in the boy over his terrible ability. He honestly realizes this piercing fear that sits within him Osment internalizes this within Cole exceedingly well. There is no question of Cole's troubles Osment shows it through his eyes. Before we even know there is a terror that exists for the boy Osment shows us the extreme weight the terror holds over him in these early quiet moments.
That is not to say he does not have a few technically louder moments, but Osment realistically portrays these moments as he does his other ones. What works about this performance is because Osment never tries to act as if Cole is some kid wise beyond his years, rather he is always a child in the end. His scenes where he verbally attacks his teacher for looking at him the wrong way. Osment is very intense in his portrayal of that but it always is still in a manner a child would attack, a very troubled child, but still a child.
Later on in the film as his horror becomes far more apparent to the audience themselves we are able to follow along right with Osment as he faces the horror and we see exactly what he sees. He brings us right along with him in his troubling state. Osment brings the horror truly to life though because he does not ever act as some sort of throw away character but actually turns Cole in a honest person going through this making terror much more real than it would have been otherwise.
What though is especially strong about his performance though is his slow change he shows in Cole over his experience. He slowly comes to eventually face his fears, and eventually tries help the dead ones he sees. Osment is very moving as Cole slowly brightens up and the pain begins to go away. It is an effective change that Osment never overplays this change it instead a slow gradual but in a strange way heartwarming as Cole comes to terms with his strange problem.
This is actually an excellent performance that never fails to bring the appropriate life to his part. He makes Cole in a real child facing what he is facing in the film. It would have been very easy to lose this human element to the horror that comes into the film, but Osment always is able to keep the humanity in his character alive throughout the film. This is a great performance by Osment that always manages to exceed what the role could have been in lesser hands.