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Don't Say a Word

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Don't Say a Word

Starring: Michael Douglas, Famke Janssen
Director: Gary Felder
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: September 2001
Genres: Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Skye McCole Bartusiak, Sean Bean, Jennifer Esposito, Brittany Murphy, Oliver Platt, Guy Torry, Conrad Goode

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Some people think that psychiatrists are among the most neurotic people around, and why not? A completely stable person may simply not become interested in the field any more than would a guy with 20/20 vision would choose to become an optometrist. (Yes, I realize there are some.) Nonetheless, if you know Michael Douglas, who played Mr. Calm in Oliver Stone's 1987 film "Wall Street," you can expect him in his current role as a psychiatrist to be stable, loving, smart. But in "Don't Say a Word," he is more like the unflappable fellow in David Fincher's "The Game" who is shaken to his roots while playing a deadly bit of recreation planned by his well-meaning brother. Unfortunately, "Don't Say a Word" shares more with Fincher's film than with Stone's in that Gary Fleder's excursion into the psyches of the traumatized and of the criminal has no sense of humor. Even worse, it takes no chances, mines no new territory, but instead plays that old war horse, the race against time. Movies like this one deadl with kidnappers want something from their prey and give the innocents x number of hours or days to come up with a) money, b) information, c) whatever else is needed. In a failed attempt to offer complexity, Fleder juggles several balls throughout the film as it plods on to its predictable conclusion, but this succeeds only in making the slick story more convoluted than it needs to be.

The 56-year-old Douglas is paired with the 36-year-old Dutch- born Famke Janssen, a woman whose youth belies her lack of appeal as an actress. Douglas is Dr. Nathan Conrad, seen from the beginning completing a session with a youthful patient, the kind of shrink we wish we all had--understanding and down-to- earth. He is Aggie Conrad's loving husband and the caring father of eight-year-old Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak). He is about to fall apart emotionally when he finds his daughter missing on the very morning that he is take her to a street party near his Upper West Side New York neighborhood. Receiving a call from Patrick Koster (Sean Bean), he and his wife are warned--as kidnappers are wont to do--to avoid calling the police. Koster and his small group of co-conspirators are full professional: they have bugged the Conrad residence and can watch every move made by his currently bedridden wife, stuck at home with her leg in a cast and in traction.

Fleder begins the film in a promising, if formulaic way, choreographing a bank robbery in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, one in which the criminals toss aside sums of money, seeking only a gem said to be worth ten million dollars. (Who would pay them such a sum is something we can only guess.) When the gang is double-crossed by the father of Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy as a teen), Elisabeth is traumatized, held over in Bellevue Hospital, bearing a secret that the gangsters are asking: she will not say a word, at least not to ordinary psychiatrists like Dr. Sachs (Oliver Platt), and certainly not to detective Sandra Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito)--which is why the bad guys are after the only head doctor who might pry the confidential information from the pale, unsmiling patient. These are smart criminals indeed. But in a commercial movie such as this one, they're never smart enough.

After the terrible incident of September 11, some say that "Arnold" movies may be on borrowed time...that the public may no longer be willing to accept mindless fodder involving exploding buildings and edifice-climbing heroes who would be the envy of "Crouching Tiger"'s Michelle Yeoh. Director Fleder's film may not be an Arnold movie (he has done better than this with the stylized "Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead)." But is there a chance of extending this moratorium on blockbusters to unimaginative race-against-time pics such as "Don't Say a Word"?

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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