DON'T SAY A WORD (2001) 

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Michael Douglas
Brittany Murphy
Sean Bean
Famke Janssen
Jennifer Esposito
Oliver Platt
Skye McCole Bartusiak
Guy Torry
Shawn Doyle
Victor Argo

Gary Fleder



Time: 113 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Mystery/Thriller

A visually energetic film that never manages to transfer the characters' anxiety to the audience. It's a thriller that adds nothing new to the language of its' genre. For all the plot machinations, the story is pretty cut and dried: foiled jewel thieves kidnap the daughter of a well-known psychologist in order to persuade him to help them retrieve valuable data out of the head of an unwilling young mental patient. She's the daughter of the man who screwed these gentleman of their prize 10 years before and they aren't about to wait a single day longer to get it. Douglas figures out what's going on pretty quickly, not because he's smart, but because the plot is not very complicated. Hence, the entire reason for Jennifer Esposito's presence. Without her concurrent homicide investigation, which leads her to the mental hospital, the movie would be a great deal shorter. The trail of murders she's following is supposed to show us the kidnappers mean business, but since we only see the results, it's not as gripping as it should be. Despite the other murders, this being a studio film, we know the little girl is going to live.

Douglas is convincing enough as a premiere psychologist, though not so much as the husband of a beautiful woman in her 30s. Can't they cast people who are more believable as husband and wife? Janssen actually has a fairly meaty role in the film, however, much of the part depends on her looks. She does, however, get to kick some ass. We are supposed to feel frightened for her since she's in a full leg cast and therefore extremely vulnerable. Yet all I felt was manipulated. Ohhh, how will she combat the kidnappers while trapped in bed? Of course, the cast is supposed to add to the excitement of her battle to survive. Instead, it makes the fight awkward and unbelievable, which is the norm for this entire film. The scenes between Douglas and Murphy – who plays the young woman who's memory holds the key to life and death, hers included – are some of the best of the film. There's a lot going on behind Murphy's eyes as she tries to survive any way she can. Douglas oozes compassionate intelligence and brutal urgency, as he desperately tries to reach the damaged psyche of this girl in order to save his own.

"You want what they want, don't you... I'll never tell. I'll never tell... Any of you."

It's when he takes matters into his own hands and begins to control the situation that the film takes a wrong turn. No man would potentially sacrifice the life of his child by confronting dangerous criminals. The story has nowhere to go if he doesn't, but becomes increasingly unrealistic as he does. Bartusiak is a bit too composed for a 9-year-old facing death. The mind games she plays add to the plot, but I found it hard to believe a sheltered, frightened child could be smarter than her captors. Sure, her father's a famous head shrink so she's probably brighter than most kids, but I'd be peeing in my pants in that situation and I'm an adult. Even when things get ugly, she never loses her cool. What does she really have to worry about? Her post-traumatic stress therapy will be free. The denouement of the story, where we learn what the numbers mean and where the treasure is buried, seems interminable. Once that secret is revealed – not that it was much of one to begin with – the plot has no where to go except into one violent confrontation after another. All of them ending with Douglas still on his feet, unharmed. How do bad guys become evil if regular people can kick their asses?

The only things that keep this film entertaining are its' visual style and frenetic editing. Instead of building the suspense and slowly twisting the screws, Fleder straps us in from frame one and refuses to slow down, relying on pacing, rather than story, to keep the audience interested. It works for about the first hour, but then grows tiresome since there's nothing behind the facade. The characters are cookie-cutter, except for Murphy's, who at least has something to reveal as the film ticks along. Bean tries to be evil, but comes off as merely pissed and pouty. Douglas phones in his performance, since it requires little more than him being angry and self-righteous, both familiar postures in his career. Janssen gives the throw-away "damsel-in-distress" role real gumption and intelligence, despite its' limitations. Platt adds a slimy element to his usual supporting turn. He gives the creepiest performance and he's one of the good guys. Esposito is good as the tough cop, breaking out of her usual sexy girl role. It's too bad her part is unnecessary and useless. If she saved the day, that would be a different story. Alas, that privilege falls to our leading man. How ground breaking. All in all, this is a glossy, well-constructed thriller. It's too bad it doesn't have anything original to say.

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