Don't Say a Word
review by Gregory Avery, 5 October 2001

It will be interesting to see if audiences respond to the vigorous thumping and thrashing that the bad guys receive in Don't Say a Word, or if they'll get tired and see the film for the preposterous, confusing mess that it is. I know I got tired of Sean Bean's sarcastic cackling mighty fast, as it is in the same vein that has been mined by a lot of actors in a lot of bad movies over the last ten years until it has become bereft.

Don't Say a Word opens with a lengthy sequence depicting a robbery (lead by Bean's character), a girl being incarcerated in a mental ward after inflicting injuries requiring "one-hundred-and-eleven stitches" (they counted them!) on someone with a razor, a dead body floating in a river, and an abduction, and then takes an hour to explain how all of these are supposed to be interrelated. Michael Douglas plays a New York City psychiatrist, famous for his "touch with the teens", who wakes up on Thanksgiving morning to discover that his daughter (Skye McCole Bartusiak) has been kidnapped -- without waking anyone in the apartment, and by men using bolt cutters, yet -- and that he has until five p.m. to extract some information out of a catatonic-schizophrenic (Brittany Murphy), the aforementioned girl with the razor, or face the consequences. Surveillance devices have been placed everywhere (inside the apartment, the mental ward) to keep track of his every move, and his cell phone lines are all tapped, as well. The disturbed girl has been bounced in and out of various institutions for the past ten years, so the psychiatrist faces performing a Herculean task of making contact with her; his wife (Famke Janssen), bedridden with a broken leg, is similarly tortured in the meantime by having to sit at home and watch scorpions being baited by loony humans on the Animal Planet channel.

The film, mercifully, cuts short a terrifying-looking scene where Douglas gives Janssen an erotic sponge bath. Otherwise, it asks us to make more leaps of faith than any audience should be called upon to perform. Opting for style over content, the filmmakers jump back and forth between parallel plotlines and use fibrillating editing which, instead than creating tension or drawing us into the corkscrewing action, throws us out of it. It also defeats the performers, and Douglas and Murphy show that they're more than capable of making something out of their characters, but we never get the chance to establish contact with them other than on a superficial level.

Murphy, in fact, is reduced to not much more than a piece of baggage during the final parts of the film, toted around by Douglas, whose character shows an inordinate amount of trust towards someone who has just committed mayhem the night before. The story has possibilities -- plenty of them, in fact, from the unnerving depths suggested by Murphy's character during her introductory scenes, to the smarts shown by the psychiatrist's abducted daughter, and whether the psychiatrist himself will choose compassion or blunt fury -- but they simply haven't been developed. What's on-screen may suffice, for now, as something that can help people take their minds off of things in the outside world for an hour or two, or maybe not.

Directed by:
Gary Fleder

Starring:
Michael Douglas
Brittany Murphy
Sean Bean
Skye McCole Bartusiak
Jennifer Esposito
Famke Janssen
Oliver Platt

Written by:
Anthony Peckham
Patrick Smith Kelly

Rated:
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
accompanying
parent or adult
guardian.

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