Dont Say A Word
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Don't Say A Word

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For many years one favorite of the film going public has always been the suspense mystery. For an audience there is a certain thrill in trying to guess where the plot will take us. Of course the undisputed master of this genre was Alfred Hitchcock. He could take a simple plot and hold the audience in his spell. Unfortunately, many modern directors have felt it necessary to add several sub plots to the mix. This is the one fault of the film ‘Don’t Say a Word’. It starts off with a blast and then gets a bit lost with four simultaneous sub plots. Still, the film holds together very well. The story starts off with a bang, a bank robbery where the object of the heist seems to be a 10 million dollar gem in the safety deposit vault rather than the money at hand. One crook palms the gem and manages to elude the rest of the gang. Cut to ten years in the future, out present. We meet a psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas). He has an upscale practice, a beautiful young wife (Famke Janssen) and an eight-year-old daughter Jessie (Sky McCole Bartusiak). It is the day before Thanksgiving and the good doctor has little on his mind except to enjoy the holiday with his family. His wife is bed ridden due to a ski accident that broke her leg. The daughter is bright and loving. Now what could possibly ruin such a perfect setting? On his way home Conrad receives a phone call from another psychiatrist, (Oliver Platt). Unlike Conrad, Dr. Sachs remained in the trenches and works in A public mental health facility. He asks Conrad to take on a difficult patient, Elisabeth (Brittany Murphy), an 18-year-old girl that has spent the last ten years in mental institutions with 20 different mental illnesses. Overnight, the good doctor awakens to find that his daughter is missing. The crooks from ten years ago have not only kidnapped the girl they installed a network of hidden cameras in the doctor’s home. They demand Conrad get a six-digit number from Elisabeth in return for the safe return of his daughter. At the same time a young detective Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito) is investigating the death of a young woman found floating in the river. The writers manage to tie all four plots together, the doctor and girl, the wife in danger, the daughter in danger and the detective’s investigation. The sub plots are fairly well integrated and they do pull together at the end but there is a feeling that the end is a bit too contrived.

What brings this film a touch above the rest of the genre is the acting. Douglas seems perfect, as always, as the slick professional with the younger, beautiful wife. While this is not much of a stretch considering his personal life he brings professionalism to the role typical of his eclectic career. Few actors can play the reasonable man pushed beyond reason like Michael Douglas. Janssen plays the handicapped wife in distress very well. She is a talented actress that does not have enough to do in this film. There are a few taught moments but she is under utilized. The real star of this film has very little dialogue but she carries the film. Brittany Murphy is fantastic here. She has certainly paid her dues considering her young years. Coming from films like ‘Clueless’ and her incredible performance opposite Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder in ‘Girl Interrupted’ Murphy shows she has talent to compliment her beauty. Murphy has a pair of the most expressive eyes in film today. Murphy can convey more with a glance than many actors can with a page of dialogue. She is one of the rising stars in young Hollywood keep an eye on her. Esposito is another actress under utilized in this film. She seems to have a nice career popping up in a great mix of genres. There are not that many character actresses around but Esposito is one of the best. No matter how large or small her role is she brings her best to the film and the movie benefits form her efforts and talents. Platt gives his usual top notch performance in this film He plays a intelligent and handles his character with more than usual for a secondary character.

Director Gary Fleder knows how to construct a taut drama. He directed the classic ‘Kiss the Girls’ with a unique style. Here. He got a little lost. The plethora of sub plots are difficult to consolidate but he manages to get the job done. With ‘Kiss the Girls’ there was more focus. Here, Fleder has to use a lot of fast cuts to keep the audience up with the four main storylines. He also seems to over use the technique of pushing the color palette to achieve an emotional effect. For example the blues are pushed for the robbery and other scenes with the gang. Greens are dominant in the hospital scenes and yellows are highlighted with some of the expository scenes. This does help the audience maintain the emotional impact desired but in this type of film it would be better for the tone to come from the performances. As mentioned before the editing is fast paced. This does carry the urgency of the situation to the audience. It also requires the viewer to keep their eyes on the screen for every minute. Have your popcorn at hand before the movie starts. Bottom line, Fleder has found his niche with this genre and I look forward to his next project. He did manage to pull the many story lines together nicely.

The disc is excellent. The audio is present in both Dolby 5.1 and DTS. The DTS provides a far richer, fuller sound field. The rear speakers are given a full workout carrying not only ambient sound but also much of the score. You are there in the middle of the action. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is clear even in all the places the director pushed the colors. Every detail is visible. The extras shin on this disc. There is a full length commentary by the director as well as several scene specific commentaries where the actors go through a scene or two. Add to this ‘Master Class’ a series of production steps and a little making of featurette ad you have a great example of how DVDs should be mastered. At the end of it all this is a disc worth having.

Posted 3/2/02

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