Los Angeles Times Review

Last Update: 28 September 2001

Source: Los Angeles Times

28 September 2001

Strong Lead Performances Lift Suspenseful 'Don't Say a Word'

By KEVIN THOMAS, Times Staff Writer

"Don't Say a Word" is a sleek, engrossing suspense thriller starring Michael Douglas as a top Manhattan psychiatrist who has everything: a beautiful wife (Famke Janssen), an adorable daughter (Skye McCole Bartusiak) and a spacious apartment in the fabulous Ansonia, a Beaux Arts landmark on the Upper West Side.

On the day before Thanksgiving, Douglas' Dr. Nathan Conrad is in an accommodating mood when pressed by a former colleague (Oliver Platt) at a psychiatric hospital (modeled on New York's famed Bellevue) to try to break through to a bedraggled, self-destructive 18-year-old (Brittany Murphy).
Without help, Platt's Dr. Jerald Sachs argues, in a couple of days, the girl could end up chained to a bed at a mental institution for the rest of her life.

Conrad doesn't know that soon he'll have to persuade Murphy's mute Elisabeth to reveal a six-digit number if he's to rescue his daughter, Jessie, kidnapped by thieves led by the brutal Patrick Coster (Sean Bean), a safecracker fresh out of prison. In the meantime, Jennifer Esposito's tenacious NYPD detective is investigating two ostensibly unrelated murders.

Director Gary Fleder and writers Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly, in adapting Andrew Klavan's novel, tell the story with dispatch and conviction. At the heart of the matter are Conrad's grueling sessions with Elisabeth, during which Douglas draws on his star authority while Murphy reveals Elisabeth as a young woman in the grip of paralyzing fear.

The film stretches credibility in demanding Douglas to come across as a potential miracle-worker and two-fisted hero--a man of brilliance, strength and daring. With a terrific assist from Murphy's equally commanding portrayal, Douglas pulls it off.

The great-looking "Don't Say a Word," wide-ranging in locations, moves between past and present, presses forward toward the kidnappers' deadline and is heightened by Mark Isham's score. The film's intricate, ingenious structure reveals twists and turns of the human psyche. It demands as much of editors William Steinkamp, Armen Minasian and cinematographer Amir Mokri as it does of the actors.
Visual and kinetic, "Don't Say a Word" moves like a bullet train through settings actual and constructed, blended seamlessly by production designer Nelson Coates and his staff. "Don't Say a Word" is smart, stylish and, most important, satisfying.


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