Don't Say a Word

on September 28, 2001 by Wade Major
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   As kidnapping-themed thrillers go, "Don't Say a Word" largely stays the course, adding a few innovative wrinkles to what is still a predominantly formulaic story about a Hitchcockian everyman pulled into circumstances beyond his control and forced to rise to the occasion. Though the stated source material for "Don't' Say a Word" is the novel of the same name by Andrew Klavan, the most obvious model is Hitchcock's own "The Man Who Knew Too Much," a story that the master of suspense himself deemed so good he made it twice. Of course, "Don't Say a Word" is nowhere near that level of intelligence or suspense, although it is sufficiently well-crafted to make the lulls less obvious.

   Michael Douglas stars as noted psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Conrad, a happy, secure family man whose tranquil life takes a horrific turn after he agrees to help treat a seemingly catatonic girl named Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy). It's Thanksgiving morning when Nathan and his wife Aggie (Famke Janssen) awaken to find that their daughter has been kidnapped by a vicious bank robber named Koster (Sean Bean) as ransom to persuade the good doctor to extract a certain "six-digit number" from Elisabeth's head. This number, presumably, is key to locating the loot which Elisabeth's father stole from Koster some 10 years earlier.

   All of this makes for an engaging premise, even if some of the details seem unnaturally forced. The unrealistic one-day deadline that Koster imposes on Nathan is especially troublesome, a gimmick seemingly intended to add an extra layer of tension which, ironically, never really materializes given how easily Nathan is able to win Elisabeth's confidence. And a parallel story involving an NYPD detective, played by Jennifer Esposito, struggles to pace with the rest of the film despite Esposito's very appealing turn. Other contrivances, though, are constructive, such as the "Rear Window" tactic of confining Aggie to her bed with leg in traction from a skiing injury. Derivative, to be sure, but a wonderful catalyst for some of the film's most suspenseful moments.

   Despite the picture's shortcomings, director Gary Fleder ("Kiss the Girls") looks to get substantial mileage out of the effort. Like his past work, "Don't Say a Word" is crisply-edited, well-acted and impressively stylish in fits and starts--clearly enough to enhance the commercial prospects of a movie that might otherwise have fallen through the autumnal cracks. Starring Michael Douglas, Sean Bean, Brittany Murphy, Jennifer Esposito, Famke Janssen and Oliver Platt. Directed by Gary Fleder. Written by Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly. Produced by Arnold Kopelson, Anne Kopelson and Arnon Milchan. A 20th Century Fox release. Thriller. Rated R for violence, including some gruesome images, and language. Running time: 114 min

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