Alex, a hit man, tries to get out of the family business, but his father won't let him do so. While seeking the help of a therapist, he meets a sexually charged 23-year-old woman with whom he falls in love.
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Alex, a sad-eyed mournful man, goes into psychotherapy: he discloses he's a hit man. He also tells the doctor, after a few sessions, that he's attracted to a young woman he's met in the waiting room. She's Sarah, 23, quick, edgy, and perhaps attracted to him as well. But he's married, the dutiful father of a young precocious boy, so Sarah brushes him off. In flashbacks we see him get his start as a killer, at his father's prompting: it's the family business. Dad gives Alex his next assignment: to kill the therapist. Alex keeps returning to Sarah, calling her, stopping by her apartment, as he decides what to do about the hit, his father, his marriage, and his malaise. Written by
Why Panic never got a good theatrical release is easily seen: it's much too smart, and audiences would have probably had a difficult time with it, comparing it to American Beauty in its probing of a midlife crisis, and Sopranos and Analyze This in it's study of illegal goings-on amidst family life. Though Panic may seem to derive from unoriginal material, Brommel's lifelike characters coupled with deft dialogue and observant direction make the film a realistic look at the undoing of a middle aged man.
William H. Macy stars as Alex, a hitman who works for his father's (Sutherland) contract-killing business. He leads a double life, with his wife (Ullman) and son unaware of his real trade. In his middle-age, he becomes increasingly disgusted with what he has done all his life. Under his calm, collected facade stirs repressed resentment for his father's controlling grasp on his life. When he meets a young woman(Campbell) he feels invigored and decides it's time to quit the family business.
The fact that writer/director Henry Brommel decided to make the profession his main character was trying to break away from contract-killing is disposable. He could have easily substituted it with any undesirable profession; his characters are so well-developed and believable, scenes handled so smoothly and realisticly and dialogue written so insightfully and naturally that the focus falls on Macy's conflicted character rather than his job as a hitman. Brommel's script feels like a Shakespearean tragedy, with a definite theme of destiny running throughout.
In Alex, Macy creates a tragic, easily sympathetic character, and turns in yet another brooding, great performance, as can always be expected. Donald Sutherland is also effectively abrasive and abusive as his overbearing father, and Ullman's dramatic turn as Macy's wife is a welcome change for the comedian. Consider a scene in a bicycle shop, where her mood subtly darkens and peaks in an affecting scene of emotional confusion.
Henry Brommel's first feature, Panic is a film that is well-crafted in its sincerity. With a first-rate cast, a plausible script, terse dialogue, and nice direction, this character-study is hopefully just a taste of Brommel's aptness for creating characters that seem real.
8 out of 10
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