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'Don't Say a Word'

Michael Douglas is in trouble again in 'Don't Say a Word'

Friday, September 28, 2001

By Barry Paris Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Why is it that, no matter how many Ph. D's you have, you always obey the kidnappers' order not to call the cops?

'Don't Say A Word'

Rating: R for violence, gruesome images and language

Players: Michael Douglas, Sean Bean, Brittany Murphy, Famke Janssen, Oliver Platt

Director: Gary Fleder

Web site: www.dontsayaword.com

Critic's call:


It is one of life's -- or cinematic life's -- great unanswered questions. "Don't Say a Word," the new Michael Douglas film, brings us no closer to an answer but it does, on the other hand, bring us a tautly made thriller.

As Dr. Nathan Conrad, the perfect husband, father and shrink, Douglas is on his way home for a perfect Manhattan Thanksgiving with his perfect little daughter Jessie (Skye Bartusiak) and near-perfect wife Aggie (Famke Janssen). Aggie would be perfect, except for her trussed-up broken leg from a skiing accident.

The happy family holiday is briefly delayed when a colleague (Oliver Platt) summons Doc Conrad for an emergency examination of a psychiatric basket case named Elizabeth, traumatized since childhood by the murder of her father. Conrad dutifully diagnoses, goes home. No big problem, right?

Wrong. Big problem the next morning when the Conrads' own daughter is abducted -- by the same brutal criminals who killed Elizabeth's dad. It seems Elizabeth has a secret number they need, and only the ace psychiatrist can get it out of her. Thus, a weird circular relationship between vulnerable patient and vulnerable doctor in dreadfully similar plights.

Director Gary Fleder ("Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" and "Kiss the Girls") has a stylish if facile touch with his material, which is based on mystery writer Andrew Klavan's "Edgar" Award-winning novel, rendered for the screen by Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly. It is well-written and constructed, though borrowing a lot from Hitchcock and Knott ("Rear Window" and "Wait Until Dark") and requiring suspension of a lot of disbelief.

Platt (from "Bulworth") is good as the dubious Dr. Louis Sachs, Brittany Murphy (from "Girl Interrupted") is excellent as poor schizoid Elizabeth, and Sean Bean ("Patriot Games") is a properly creepy criminal mastermind. But it's up to Douglas to carry the show in his adequate -- if never charismatic -- way.

"Don't Say a Word" is a good crime yarn with unfortunate location timing. Its New York-based terror-type violence induces a lot of wincing: A single shot of the city skyline with the late great World Trade Towers in the far background prompted a somber, eerie murmur at the screening -- and the thought that no film terror can ever again approach the real thing.

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