Hollywood Reporter Review

Last Update: 24 September 2001

Source: Hollywood Reporter

24 September 2001

By Kirk Honeycutt

In the artificial movie world that is the psychological thriller, "Don't Say a Word" is sadistically proficient at the old "turn of the screw." First the movie presents us with a guy, played by Michael Douglas, who has everything -- lucrative job, sexy wife, lovely child. Then it tears this down with kidnappers and terror until the guy finds the guts to fight back and triumph over relentless evil. Plot contrivances and inconsistencies abound. But what the filmmakers have designed is a tightly coiled trap to ensnare the viewer into a nightmare where everything a man holds dear is at stake through no fault of his own.

Moviegoers may well respond enthusiastically to a movie set in New York where jeopardy, terror and venality run rampant. But Fox has certainly picked an unfortunate time to test these waters. Nothing is certain in today's anxious climate, but if the film's protagonist, Dr. Nathan Conrad, is a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, then that goes double for this movie. It's creepy in all the wrong ways.

The movie's writers -- Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly working from a novel by Andrew Klavan -- borrow transparently from Hitchcock, from the voyeurism and a person incapacitated with a broken leg in "Rear Window" to the father racing a ticking clock to save his child in "The Man Who Knew Too Much."
Dr. Conrad (Douglas) is an Upper West Side shrink whose practice has devolved into rationalizing the masturbatory fantasies of rich adolescents. On Thanksgiving eve, two perplexing events occur. A colleague (Oliver Platt) summons him on an emergency basis to a psychiatric hospital to interview a young, loony woman (Brittany Murphy) who has spent 10 years in various nuthouses. Then, that night, his daughter Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak) gets kidnapped from the swank co-op he shares with his beautiful wife (Famke Janssen), who has a broken leg.

The two events are, fantastically, related. He is told in a cell phone call from a Very Bad Guy (Sean Bean) that unless he manages to unlock a six-digit number from his new patient's chaotic mind by 5 p.m., his daughter will be killed.

This is not the kind of movie that can tolerate, as Hitchcock used to call them, "the implausibles" -- viewers who challenge a plot's flimsiness. Why 5 o'clock? Why this particular shrink? Why is the patient crazy one minute and sane the next? How did this whole elaborate conspiracy get set up in a matter of hours? Because the truth of the matter is that this is all the writers could come up with to keep a shaky story rolling along.

Within the context of these absurdities, one can find nuggets of film magic. Playing the kidnapped daughter, Bartusiak spreads charm all over the screen. Cinematographer Amir Mokri achieves a terrifically gritty look with earth tones, institutional greens and blues for hospital sequences and sunlight hopscotching over claustrophobic interior sets. The cool menace in Mark Isham's score gives heightened urgency to the melodrama.

Douglas carries his movie-star hauteur well, managing to seem both a man in control and a guy on the verge of losing everything. Murphy, making sense out of a nonsensical character, handles the sudden shifts between superintelligence and delirium as if such shifts are completely within the realm of human behavior. Bean is sheer nastiness with an English accent, a role he has perfected in such films as "GoldenEye" and "Patriot Games." Jennifer Esposito, as a police detective inexplicably working during her Thanksgiving holiday to solve a crime she could easily leave until Monday, makes a stalwart effort to enliven a poorly designed character and story line.

William Steinkamp's editing is lively yet smooth. Director Gary Fleder moves events along at a nerve-racking pace. But the real filmmaking energy is in the background: the anxious, ominous atmosphere of a city where malevolence lurks around every corner.

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