Speaks too little
kristin724 | New Jersey USA | 12/16/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
Maybe you've seen 2001's Don't Say A Word. Perhaps you don't like thrillers or find Michael Douglas past his Fatal Attraction prime. You do, however, know one thing about director Gary Fleder's tale: "I'll never tell."
I'm sure you know someone who imitates Brittany Murphy's haunting chirp; perhaps you do a good one yourself. Don't Say A Word is much more than a Murphy romp, but its not as much as it could be.
Michael Douglas (Wall Street) leads a fine cast as Dr. Nathan Conrad, a psychiatrist with a flare for helping troubled young folk. His wife Aggie (Famke Janssen, X-Men) is laid up at the Conrad's posh townhouse with a broken leg and daughter Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak, 24). All seems just peachy until Dr. Conrad receives an emergency call on Thanksgiving Eve. Dr. Louis Sachs (Oliver Platt, The West Wing) needs Nathan's insights on a new patient, Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy, Sin City). After his initial visit with Elisabeth, the holiday morning seems grand-until the Conrads discover Jessie has been abducted during the night. Jewel thief turned kidnapper Patrick Koster (Sean Bean, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) calls Dr. Conrad with his demands; Get the number locked inside Elisabeth's troubled mind or Jessie is dead.
Based on the novel by Andrew Klavan with a screenplay from Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly (A Perfect Murder), Don't Say A Word certainly has an intriguing premise. The opening robbery scene and subsequent patient and family sets establish who everyone is and what is happening. The suspense and food for thought comes in the unanswered why. How did Koster come to Nathan? What is the number? The direction from Fleder (Kiss the Girls) and the performances onscreen are realistic and well played. It's tough to have an action opening followed by seemingly random looks into a New York family's life, but it works here. We are invested in these people's dilemmas. We want answers and resolution.
Michael Douglas is on form as the sympathetic yet intelligent Dr. Conrad. At first we might find him uppity and smug-Nathan has left the down trodden psychiatric hospital for uptown and lucrative psychiatry. Oddly enough, you are rooting more for the opening heist. You want the double cross on Koster to succeed. Seeing how Dr. Conrad and his family get caught in Koster's revenge scheme instantly makes the determined father likeable. Douglas often plays the Fonda-type innocent and wronged man with roles like The Game and more recently the elderly comedy The In-Laws; a remake co starring dad Kirk Douglas. We know he'll do what needs to be done, and we believe his motivation.
Perhaps more intriguing is Famke Janssen as Aggie, the bed bound wife. When Koster is spying on her and carrying on glib phone conversations, you feel every bit for Aggie's pain, helplessness, and fear for herself and her abducted daughter. It's bemusing to see Janssen and Sean Bean on opposite sides since they were so delicious as the evil duo in Goldeneye. The turnabout makes Koster seem even more dubious, and you really want Aggie to do something about it. But what can she do? Not just a pretty face, Janssen sells what could be very claustrophobic and still scenes with real tears, intense stares, angry fidgets, and subtle movements. Untraditional camera angles also work in Aggie's storyline. She may not move, but the camera does. Likewise the cuts to Sean Bean as Koster on the phone expand Aggie's space.
Often typecast as the villain courtesy of his vile roles in Patriot Games and Essex Boys, Bean is creepy as ever in Don't Say A Word. We've seen his villainy before, but American audiences may not be as familiar with Bean's voice, unlike his popular narration, commercial, and voice over work in the UK. His delivery for Koster is perfectly vile and suave. Every time Koster calls Dr. Conrad, you know who's in control.
Strangely, Brittany Murphy doesn't have much to do beyond the ticks and chants of the stereotypical crazy person on film. Bartusiak's Jessie is cute enough, but the strength of these characters is raised by the three leads. The Conrads want their daughter, Nathan reaches out to Elisabeth like a father to a daughter, and both the younger girls are very important to Koster and his schemes.
I would like to have seen more of the authorities' storyline. Jennifer Esposito's Detective Cassidy is always one step behind. It's a shame her scenes aren't given more weight to parallel the main focuses. Yes, another thread to conclude may not always be a good thing, but somewhere halfway through Don't Say A Word, things get a little obvious. The intelligent layers peel down to other stereotypical themes. It turns out Elisabeth isn't all that troubled after all, everyone has their rah rah moment and then it's time to move onto Thanksgiving Dinner. For all the fine performances and mature set up in Don't Say A Word, the end wraps up almost too nicely. I liked Don't Say A Word and am still recommending it to intelligent audiences, but intrigued viewers must look to the DVD features for more in depth scenes and analysis. Cast and director commentaries, storyboards, and deleted scenes give some fulfillment.
Don't Say A Word is an intelligent and well acted film when such movies are tough to find. Repeat watching may not be in the cards, but any thinking person audience should tune in.
Don't say a word
Robert S. Rubin | Arizona | 09/19/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"the film was excellent and very suspenseful and had us guessing the outcome until the end."