When Sarah (Neve Campbell) strikes up a conversation with a sad-eyed man called Alex (William H. Macy) at her therapist's office, she asks, "Are you one of those middle-aged guys who's tired of his marriage and thinking ma... more »ybe a beautiful young thing could help him out?" She's right, but the source of Alex's depression is far from typical: he's a second-generation hit man who wants out, but his mom and dad won't let him quit. Donald Sutherland makes Alex's laconic and utterly monstrous father the most frightening parent since John Huston in Chinatown. A series of flashbacks show how he introduced Alex to his trade, beginning with shooting squirrels in the woods. We never find out whether Alex's father has mob connections, and the fact that it's just a business to him ("This one's a big job, lots of moola, I'll buy your mother a Lexus") makes him all the more chilling. Alex's mother (the steely Barbara Bain) knows all about the family business, but his wife (Tracey Ullman) thinks he runs a mail-order company, and the only person he confides in is a therapist (John Ritter). When he meets and falls for Sarah, Alex realizes that he alone can stand up to his father, and he needs to act before his own son becomes the next apprentice. Henry Bromell's debut film as a writer-director probes the same dark corners of the middle-aged male psyche as American Beauty and The Sopranos. Alex's tormented life is a symbol of the damage that parents can inflict on their children, and Bromell imbues his story with a tragic inevitability. Panic received a shamefully limited theatrical release, in spite of its rare combination of a great script and brilliant performances. It deserves to be rediscovered and appreciated by a much larger audience on home video. --Simon Leake« less
A haunting film about a hitman with an identity crisis
K. Corn | Indianapolis,, IN United States | 06/21/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you're a fan of William Macy, this is a must-see film. I think it is one of his finest roles, showcasing his ability to convey emotional complexity without being overly dramatic or over the top. In this film, he plays a hitman who is becoming increasingly tormented by being part of the family business, a business which just happens to be murder for hire, disposing of unwanted people for a hefty fee. The business is headed by Alex's father, played to psychotic perfection by Donald Sutherland, a man who is relentless in his determination to make Alex do his will. Tormented by the idea that his young son might follow his own path, Alex decides to see a psychiatrist (John Ritter). Neve Campbell, cast against type (for those of us who remember her in Scream) does a superb job playing a troubled young woman who encounters Alex in the psychiatrist's waiting room, eventually entering into an affair with him. I won't say more about the major events in this film but hope this brief intro intrigues you enough to want to see it. Although I plan to watch this one again and again, I do have to say this might not be for you if you want a movie full of non-stop action, suspense and violence. The drama here is mostly psychological, intense enough in its own way, but far different from that of an action film."
Looking for Peace and A Beautiful Young Thing
prisrob | New EnglandUSA | 09/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Alex (William Macy) needs to see a therapist. He is a hit man and wants to give up his job. The problem is this is a family business, although we are never told if this is part of the Mafia or a private business- the latter, I think. Anyway, in the waiting room, Alex runs into this beautiful young thing played by Never Campbell, and they start talking. What is Alex to do? His wife thinks he runs a mail order business and what he really does is kill people. Neve Campbell's character is someone who knows nothing, an innocent young thing, just what he needs.
Alex tells the therapist about his job and his therapist (John Ritter) is upfront. If Alex tells him about a forthcoming job he will have to report it, otherwise he is protected by doctor/patient confidentiality. Alex's father is played by Donald Sutherland, and a more cold blooded man would be hard to find. We see in flashbacks how Alex was trained by his old man and his first job as that of a killer.
"Panic" is one of those movies that grab you. It is well written, the actors are marvelous and just right for their parts. I had never heard of it. It is a quiet movie that seems to have come and gone. Daniel Dorfman is Alex's son, Sammy. What a fabulous young actor he is. We realize that Alex needs to save his son, so that the next generation, Sammy, that is, will not have to become a killer. A scene that is so telling is one of Gram and Grampa browbeating Sammy. We understand how Alex became the hit man, the murderer, the killer, the confused, mixed up man he is.
Alex makes a decision to quit this job. He will confront his father and put a stop to this horrible business. And why does Alex have to support his mother and father through this killing business? It is lucrative enough, so that dad tells Alex he will buy his wife a new Lexus and a vacation after the job is done. Just what kind of family is this? How did Alex such a wonderful man with a conscience, it seems, come to this family? What genetic characteristic is going to help him be finished, kaput, done, fini with the killing job? A great, great movie with a message and with a fabulous cast. Highly recommended- go find it now and rent it and watch it immediately! prisrob
Bob | the shoemaker's hutch | 02/11/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"There is a scene in the middle of the movie when Alex takes his son to see his grandfather, who has bought him a birthday present. It is the most interesting scene of the movie, and the heart from which everything else should radiate. It is the only time that Alex, his father, and his son are all onscreen at the same time and you realize that this is the conflict that is killing Alex -- he is his father's son, cynical, secretive, and ruthless, but he is also equally his son's father -- innocent, curious, and affectionate. Framed that way, both his father and his son can be seen as reflections of his own psyche. The reason why he is so blank, so tired and depressed, is that they cancel each other out. By then end of that scene I knew how the movie had to end. The side story involving Neve Campbell isn't very interesting."
At What Age Is A Crisis Due?
Reviewer | 02/27/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The effects of job related stress and the pressures born of a moral dilemma that pits conscience against the obligations of a family business (albeit a unique one) all brought to a head by-- or perhaps the catalyst of-- a midlife crisis, are examined in the dark and absorbing drama, "Panic," written and directed by Henry Bromell, and starring William H. Macy and Donald Sutherland. It's a telling look at how indecision and denial can bring about the internal strife and misery that ultimately leads to apathy and that moment of truth when the conflict must, of necessity, at last be resolved. Alex (Macy) is tired; he has a loving wife, Martha (Tracey Ullman), a precocious six-year-old son, Sammy (David Dorfman), a mail order business he runs out of the house, as well as his main source of income, the "family" business he shares with his father, Michael (Sutherland), and his mother, Deidre (Barbara Bain). But he's empty; years of plying this particular trade have left him numb and detached, putting him in a mental state that has driven him to see a psychologist, Dr. Josh Parks (John Ritter). And to make matters worse (or maybe better, depending upon perspective), in Dr. Parks' waiting room he meets a young woman, Sarah Cassidy (Neve Campbell), whose presence alone makes him feel alive for the first time since he can remember. She quickly becomes another brick in the wall of the moral conflict his job has visited upon him, as in the days after their meeting he simply cannot stop thinking about her. His whole life, it seems, has become a "situation"-- one from which he is seemingly unable to successfully extirpate himself without hurting the ones he loves. He can deny his age and the fact that he has, indeed, slipped into a genuine midlife crisis, but he is about to discover that the problems he is facing are simply not going to go away on their own. He's at a crossroads, and he's going to have to decide which way to go. And he's going to have to do it very soon. From a concept that is intrinsically interesting, Bromell has fashioned an engrossing character study that is insightful and incisive, and he presents it is a way that allows for moments of reflection that enable the audience to empathize and understand what Alex is going through. He makes it very clear that there are no simple answers, that in real life there is no easy way out. His characters are well defined and very real people who represent the diversity found in life and, moreover, within any given family unit. The film resoundingly implies that the sins of the father are irrefutably passed on to the progeny, with irrevocable consequences and effects. When you're growing up, you accept your personal environment as being that of the world at large; and often it is years into adulthood that one may begin to realize and understand that there are actually moral parameters established by every individual who walks upon the planet, and that the ones set by the father may not be conducive to the tenets of the son. And it is at that point that Alex finds himself as the story unfolds; ergo, the midlife crisis, or more specifically, the crisis of conscience from which he cannot escape. It's a powerful message, succinctly and subtly conveyed by Bromell, with the help of some outstanding performances from his actors. For some time, William H. Macy has been one of the premiere character actors in the business, creating such diverse characters as Quiz Kid Donnie Smith in "Magnolia," The Shoveler in "Mystery Men" and Jerry Lundegaard in "Fargo." And that's just a sampling of his many achievements. At one point in this film, Sarah mentions Alex's "sad eyes," and it's a very telling comment, as therein lies the strength of Macy's performance here, his ability to convey very real emotion in an understated, believable way that expresses all of the inner turmoil he is experiencing. Consider the scene in which he is lying awake in bed, staring off into the darkness; in that one restless moment it is clear that he is grappling, not only with his immediate situation, but with everything in his life that has brought him, finally, to this point. In that scene you find the sum total of a life of guilt, confusion and uncertainty, all of which have been successfully suppressed until now; all the things that have always been at the core of Alex's life, only now gradually breaking through his defense mechanisms and finally surfacing, demanding confrontation and resolution. It's a complex character created and delivered by Macy with an absolute precision that makes Alex truly memorable. It's a character to whom anyone who has ever faced a situation of seemingly insurmountable odds will be able to relate. It's a terrific piece of work by one of the finest actors around. Sutherland is extremely effective, as well; his Michael is despicably sinister in a way that is so real it's chilling. It's frightening, in fact, to consider that there are such people actually walking the earth. This is not some pulp fiction or James Bond type villain, but a true personification of evil, hiding behind an outward appearance that is so normal he could be the guy next door, which is what makes it all the more disconcerting. And Sutherland brings it all to life brilliantly, with a great performance. Neve Campbell looks the part of Sarah, but her performance (as is the usual case with her) seems somewhat pretentious, although her affected demeanor here just happens to fit the character and is actually a positive aspect of the film. If only she would occasionally turn her energies inward, it would make a tremendous difference in the way she presents her characters. "Panic," however, is one of her best efforts; a powerful film that, in the end, is a journey well worth taking."
'I'VE GOTTA MOW THAT LAWN TOMORROW...'
Larry L. Looney | Austin, Texas USA | 07/04/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"PANIC is another in a string of fine performances that have shown William H. Macy to be 'quietly' establishing himself as one of the best actors working today. He delivers the line quoted above just moments after being confronted by his wife, Martha (Tracy Ullman), about possibly being involved in an affair. It's a very telling line -- Macy gives it such an air of detached resignation -- it exemplifies the pivotal, life-changing crossroads at which Alex, his character, finds himself. It's a decision that he has to make -- there is no way to avoid it -- but one that he dreads. He is a man in a corner with no easy way out.A first directing and writing effort for Henry Bromell, PANIC is a well-composed and intelligent film. The casting, acting, cinematography and music all combine to create a seeming oxymoron, a sort of 'relaxed tension' that builds as the story progresses. Alex is having a bit of a mid-life crisis -- he's a son dominated by a cold, controlling father (Donald Sutherland), dragged at an early age into following the old man's footsteps into the 'family business', which just happens to be murder-for-hire. The only other person who knows what the business really involves is his mother (Barbara Bain) -- until the stress and unhappiness of his life bring him into the office of a psycholigist (John Ritter). In the waiting room he meets fellow patient Sarah (Neve Campbell), a beautiful, troubled 23 year-old woman with issues of her own, to whom he becomes uncontrollably attracted.It is at this point that the viewer begins to realize that this film doesn't take the easy road. In the hands of another writer or director, everything might become nauseatingly predictable -- but it the case of PANIC, the audience is treated to a more realistic, 'inside' look at a hit man, indeed, a hit man with a conscience.The DVD edition includes a few deleted scenes -- interesting, but just as well left out. I would go so far as to say that any one of them being included in the finished product might have actually detracted from the overall effect of the film. Clocking in at only 88 minutes, the film is leaner than many -- but that allows it to move along nicely, to the point, with the fat trimmed away.This film did well at festivals, but didn't fare as well with most critics (Roger Ebert raved about it, however) or in theatres. Available now on DVD, it's one that viewers should take the opportunity to explore."