28 September 2001
"Don't Say a Word" may be a case of the right movie coming along at the wrong time.
Starring Michael Douglas as Nathan Conrad -- a New York psychiatrist whose daughter is kidnapped by murderers and thieves -- this film's violent content and heavy plot may be too much for many at this point in time. In fact, the producers and the studio considered holding the film's release date, but in the end decided to take the White House's advice and try to return to "business as usual."
The plot is deviously, deliciously complex, and fairly simple at the same time.
On his way home to a comfortable Upper West Side apartment on Thanksgiving, Eve Conrad is waylaid by a colleague, Dr. Louis Sachs (Oliver Platt).
Sachs wants Conrad to examine a young woman, Elizabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy) who has been in and out of mental hospitals for 10 years. Conrad is her last hope before she's shipped off to a state institution.
When Conrad finally gets Elizabeth to talk to him, all she'll say at first is, "You want what they want, don't you? I'll never tell, any of you."
Intrigued, he takes her on as a patient.
What Conrad doesn't know is that the information
Elizabeth claims she'll never tell is of vital interest to a group
of men who have just been released from prison. They were at her
father's killing 10 years earlier. (OK, just 10 years' imprisonment
for what has to be first-degree murder is a bit far-fetched, but
Elizabeth witnessed the murder. Her father had been part of this evil gang when they stole a diamond worth $10 million. He double-crossed them and hid the jewel somewhere that only Elizabeth knew about.
The leader of the gang is a ruthless criminal named Koster (British actor Sean Bean). He launches a devious plan. He kidnaps Conrad's young daughter, Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak), and places cameras around Conrad's apartment in order to spy on the desperate father and his wife Aggie (Famke Janssen), while he negotiates a deal: Elizabeth's information for Jessie's life.
Also in the mix is a New York cop, Sandra Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito), who's hot on the case, despite a lack of cooperation from anyone involved.
That's enough plot. Suffice it to say, there are twists and turns, cars racing through wet, dark city streets, scenes in graveyards and lots of violence that gets up close and personal.
Based on a 1991 novel of the same name by Andrew Klavan -- who received a Mystery Writers of America's Edgar award for the book -- the film's been adapted for the screen by Anthony Peckman and Patrick Smith Kelly. They've added characters and shifted situations and locations around to change the nonlinear structure of the original book. But the original sense of dread and jeopardy remains.
Douglas, as usual, turns in a solid performance. And as usual, his wife on screen is half his age. However, with Douglas it's just a case of art imitating life.
Murphy delivers a believable turn as the confused young woman on the verge of insanity. She got early acting training as a mental patient when she appeared in "Girl Interrupted" (2000). She's also featured in the upcoming film "Riding in Cars With Boys," starring Drew Barrymore.
Bean is one of film's most effective villains. From "Patriot Games" (1992) to "Ronin" (1998), he's a master of menace. Here he goes toe-to-toe with Douglas, and while the outcome is a foregone conclusion, they made a good pair.
All in all, "Don't Say a Word," is a well-crafted thriller that breaks no new ground but is an exciting diversion with plausible twists of logic and an exciting climax.
But be ready, the violence is jarring, it's set in New York City -- and it may, or may not be, what you're looking for in entertainment at the moment.
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