Minneapolis Star Tribune Review


Last Update: 28 September 2001


Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune

28 September 2001

Do tell: 'Word' proves chilling
Colin Covert
Star Tribune
Published Sep 28 2001

Popular entertainment sometimes reverberates in unpredictable ways. An engrossing suspense thriller such as "Don't Say a Word" takes on new significance when paranoia infects the nation's psyche.
The formula of an imperiled child hostage, a merciless band of kidnappers and a family shaken to its foundations feels like a dream-logic replay of recent traumas. How reassuring to know that, despite the hurdles in front of the hero and the villains' cunning, justice will prevail in less than two hours. A small catharsis is better than none.

Michael Douglas plays a prosperous child psychiatrist whose biggest problem is wheeling his Range Rover through midtown Manhattan traffic. He has a luscious wife (Famke Janssen), simmeringly sexy even though she's bedridden with a leg cast from a skiing accident. They have an 8-year-old (Skye McCole Bartusiak) who's already savvy enough to play mind games with Daddy.

They've got it all, in fact, except a security system to protect themselves. All it takes to violate their perfect life is a lock pick and a bolt cutter.

The villains don't want a conventional ransom, but rather a number locked in the head of a young mental patient (Brittany Murphy). The chief thug (Sean Bean) gives the beleaguered doctor a few hours to win the girl's trust and extract the information. Her fear that unknown pursuers are out to get her becomes increasingly plausible as the plot spins through its complications.

Orbiting the events is a capable detective (Jennifer Esposito) working an apparently unrelated murder case. Events bring her into the thick of the kidnapping for a showdown in a grim setting that gives the denouement a fittingly morbid tone.

Producer Arnold Kopelson teamed with Douglas to give us "A Perfect Murder," a satisfying if conventional update of "Dial M for Murder." The team offers a similar entertainment this time out, a standard nail-biter elevated by edgy cinematography and slick direction from Gary Fleder ("Kiss the Girls"). The film's moody look gives an uneasy aura to every frame.

The tone is so darkly seductive that it's easy to forgive missteps. It is hard to swallow the notion that a visit to the scene of an emotional shock is all that's needed to unblock a patient who's been institutionalized for a decade. Douglas' character is supposed to be a therapeutic wizard, but if it were that simple, why didn't someone else try it?

Still, "Don't Say a Word" sweeps along with a narrative momentum that carries us easily past such misgivings. It's solid, professional craftsmanship. No more, alas, but certainly no less.

*** out of four stars The setup: To save his kidnapped daughter, a child psychiatrist must persuade a disturbed young woman to divulge a mysterious secret.

What works: Slick, suspenseful direction.

What doesn't: Lazy writing that asks us to believe a wealthy New Yorker wouldn't have a security system in his home, that deranged people can be cured instantly by a visit to the scene of their trauma and so on.

Great line: The shrink's 8-year-old tells daddy she's not ready for bed: "I have mental problems."

Rating: R for violence, including some gruesome images, and language.

 

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