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They say there's nothing new under the sun, and that's especially apt in
sunny Hollywood. So it's tempting to ask, merely as a theoretical
"can you make a movie that is essentially a model kit assembled from other
movies, and still make it effective?" "Don't Say a Word" proves that the
answer is "Yes." WHY you would want to set out to do such a thing is
another question; you'll have to ask the producers about
In the movie, Michael Douglas plays an affluent, happily married psychologist who has to contend (as Michael Douglas does in every movie), with a seriously disturbed woman. The femme-looney in this outing is Elizabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), a 10-year, 20-institution veteran with enough contradictory diagnoses to sink a DSM textbook. He is called in to consult by a colleague (Oliver Platt) and then is bewildered as a shadowy band of Bad Guys snatch his daughter and demand that he work his famed empathy thing with poor Britt and get her to give him a ten-digit number that they need. Her dad, it seems, ripped them off during the heist of a precious red jewel, and they need the number to find it. Douglas figures out that while she has problems of her own, Elizabeth has been confounding her doctors by imitating various symptoms, in effect, staying institutionalized to hide from the evildoers. Me, I would have gone to Tahiti; to each his own.
The kidnap-flick tropes then come in fast and heavy: the Panicked Discovery, the Initial Phone Call, The List of Rules (no cops, yada yada), "No Deal Til I Talk to My Daughter", the Desperate Clock-Race Across Town, the Tough Female Detective trying to Figure It All Out, and more. We get a host of other familiar faces, too: the Bad Guys are a band of high-tech thieves (which are so common in movies, they must have a hell of a union), with black leather jackets, sleek laptops, and a guy whose job during the robbery is to stand in the middle of the bank with a stopwatch calling off the time, as though they were at the Olympic trials for the 100-meter Felony.
But all this is skillfully handled, with just enough tweaks to the familiar formulas to make it feel fresh. At one point, Douglas makes the kidnappers relocate to meet him, a nice twist on the usual "kidnappers run the bagman all over town" scene. And the bit with the mental patient, well, it beats can-we-raise-the-money-in-time? For his part, Michael Douglas does well, though he is a little too slick to portray besieged decent men. My hunch is that Harrison Ford was first choice to play this role. Famke Janssen is good as his wife. Though the script gives her little to do, she is really the one who makes us feel the panic and despair that attend the abduction of a child, and though it's a familiar movie scenario, it is still able to play on the nerves quite effectively. The little girl playing Douglas' daughter does well, too, cute but not cloying, smart but credible; there is an amusing scene where she attempts to make conversation with the hulking, tattooed murderer who is guarding her, eventually cajoling him into making peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. And, carrying on the proud tradition started by Alyssa Milano in "Commando", does her level best to foil her captors.
The Bad Guys are a little disappointing. They are assigned quirks rather than characters (one never appears to have a name). As the head villain, Sean Bean makes what he can of his feral charisma, but he literally phones this performance in. I think the poor guy is doomed to spend the rest of his career playing Hibernian heavies in leather jackets. Their operation seems a little too well-orchestrated, especially since the movie supposedly take place less than three weeks after they've been sprung after doing a dime in Attica (where one guesses they studied electronic eavesdropping in between lifting weights). And while the movie doesn't say how much the priceless rock is worth, by my estimation, after splitting the proceeds and covering their overhead, surveillance equipment, and tattoos, the gang should have just enough left for a celebratory lunch at the IHOP.
The best performance is by Brittany Murphy as the twitchy, wary Elizabeth. With her weird hand gestures and tuneless singing, this character could have been really annoying. But Murphy makes her guileless and affecting. Watching her stare out her barred window at the tugboats in the river, your heart breaks just a little.
The story is not always credible, especially the parts involving Jennifer Esposito as the detective, who is really a sideshow anyway. We also see several New Yorkers who are surprisingly pliant when deprived of everything from cell phones to speedboats. And the parents adhere blindly to the "don't tell the cops" rule, even after it is laughably impractical to do so.
The thing that really makes the movie work is the setting and the way it is shot by director Gary Fleder, who made the underrated "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead". Fleder puts us in claustophobic, oppressive places, from underground morgues to puke-green institution hallways with prison doors and disturbing graffiti, to the fog-shrouded darkness of Potter's Field, graveyard of the anonymous dead of New York City. Even Douglas' luxury apartment seems at tight quarters, and these places are filmed in such a way to make this close to a horror movie. The dark climax is formulaic, but give a neat twist in location. The number, incidentally, doesn't refer to an uplink code or satellite designation or encryption key or any of the usual millenial McGuffins of late. What it represents is something surprising, sad, and refreshingly old-fashioned. Which kind of goes for the rest of the movie as well.
Here's another interesting kidnap story. Sean Bean always plays a
believable villain and Michael Douglas usually plays roles that keep
the audience's attention....so the almost- two hours go by pretty
quickly. The whole cast, actually, pretty good with no one person
The story loses points because the ending goes on too long and has the standard villain-holds-the-gun-and-doesn't shoot-too long cliché which drives critics, me included crazy. That, and a bit too many f-words in here by the female cop (Jennifer Esposito) which simply aren't necessary, and a few other holes all reduce this from a sure 9-star to an "8.....but don't misunderstand: it's worth a look.
Ever see a movie for the first time yet still have to ask yourself, "Wait,
have I seen this before?" That's pretty much what we're dealing with here.
Even if you haven't seen this movie yet, you have.
With "Don't Say a Word," it's like whoever made it was so enthralled by the high-concept, give-it-to-me-in-ten-words-or-less premise, they figured they didn't have to try real hard with anything else. Sure, it's competent. But with its intriguing premise, it should have advanced way past that.
Oh well. It doesn't. Michael Douglas -- who in this film is wearing more make-up than the "women" I see on Santa Monica Blvd. at midnight -- puts in the kind of performance that, if this were an office job, wouldn't get him fired but wouldn't get him promoted. It's more than a drive-by paycheck pick-up, but Douglas has been around long enough to size up a script and know when he should bother trying and when he shouldn't. He goes with choice B here. And it doesn't really matter.
(As a side note, when is the last time Michael Douglas had an on-screen wife within 20 years of his own age? I mean, come on. Do you really think that in real life the man could...oh, wait, never mind.)
As for everything else, Brittany Murphy scores some points for playing a schizophrenic disaster of a girl who you'd still like to nail. Oliver Platt, who is getting fatter faster than Aretha Franklin, shows up for some day player-level acting work. Famke Jannsen looks sexy in a cast, but isn't given much to do. And as for the cop, played by Jennifer Esposito, she is so irrelevant to the plot that she's practically in a different movie altogether.
The plot? If you can't figure out how this movie ends, you're trying even less than whoever wrote it.
Having said all that, it will still kill two free hours just fine. Little ventured, nothing gained.
My 11 year old nephew said it was the scariest movie he's ever seen. I
can't quite agree with that, but the level of intensity and the fast moving
plot really impressed me, even if it all didn't quite add up in the end. I
can't remember a movie that I've seen in awhile that just MOVED along so
well and had so little downtime. Given the 'deadline', it felt like it was
in real-time for the second half of the movie.
I was a little bothered by Michael Douglas having a wife the age of Famke. I love her and its not a knock against her but there was no need to keep up Douglas' legacy of attracting wives under 35 for him. Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore and Daryl Hannah have all been love interests for him - why? Because its the male fantasy? Reeks of insecurity to me. Plus I don't see Dame Judi Dench romancing Leo, do I? Meryl Streep and James Franco? Anyway, this is not important, just slightly annoying.
There are questions I'd like to ask the screenwriter because there are inconsistencies along the way and about one or two things that are totally out of the question.
However, as I mentioned, the movie moves along so fast that you might not have time to dwell on anything for too long. I don't think it was speeded up to cover anything up either.
The best part is the acting, especially by Brittany Murphy. I didn't enjoy her in "Clueless" but really loved her in "Girl Interupted" and thought she was the best thing about that movie. Here she gives it all, in a part that could have been laughed off the screen if it weren't played exactly right. Jennifer Esposito is also very believable as a cop, Sean Bean as a kidnapper and, as mentioned, Famke as a trophy wife.
Worth watching, for sure. 7/10.
This movie provides in the thrills department. It stars Michael Douglas in
the lead role (and he IS well cast) as a psychiatrist whose daughter is
kidnapped by a bunch of men who want him to extract a six-digit number from
a mentally disturbed young lady. Both parties then proceed to match wits en
route to a great climax towards the end of the movie.
This was based on the book by the same name. The book was quite good, too. I rank this movie as your typical thriller with good twists.
*** out of ****
Renowned psychiatrist Nathan Conrad visits an 18 year old woman who is
mentally disturbed with his colleague Dr Sachs. The next morning he awakes
to find his daughter kidnapped and him and his wife under surveillance by a
shadowy group of men. He is given until 5pm that day to get the patient to
reveal a 6 digit number to him that is locked up in her head. Meanwhile his
wife is trapped in their flat and police woman Cassidy is piecing together a
puzzle that begins with the discovery of two related murders.
It doesn't matter how daft a story is if it manages to convince you for as long as it's on screen. For example Face/Off has the most absurd plot in the world, but for 2 hours it doesn't matter and it carries you along. This doesn't quite manage the same trick. The plot is daft - every single part of it is silly from the idea of a girl being unreachable is daft, the idea of the gang doing this is daft and the way that with very little notice the gang manage to set up cameras everywhere.
That said it has it's moments - the opening robbery is good and some of the drama works well. However for too much of the film you feel like the director is really trying to make it feel more tense than it is - witness the scene where Conrad first finds talks to Patrick Koster on the phone, the camera spins wildly all round him. Similarly he uses a lot of handheld stuff to give the impression of more action than is really happening, he also uses other lazy tricks like having everyone shouting their lines at times and making everyone squeal their tyres etc when they drive! These combined with the silly plot make it hard to get into.
Douglas is OK but he doesn't convince as the strong father figure that saves the day - he looks too old to take on Bean in a fight. He also looks far to old to have a beauty like Famke Janssen. She does well despite being stuck indoors all the time - the only problem with her is that she is far to warm and perfect a character. Murphy is good although she has moments where she's too hammy. Bean and his gang are good but they are distant from the action and never feel like a real threat - in fact you could almost sympathise with Bean, having been double-crossed at the start and wasting 10 years of his life. Esposito is OK but she doesn't really have a character - she tries to be tough and slightly sassy (a role she did so well everyday in Spin City) but she comes across as nondescript as her black leather coat. Victor Argo is a pleasure to see, but he's wasted here with nothing to do in a really small role. Fans of Abel Ferrera will know him while he's been in other things (notably the two Smoke films) and know how good a character actor he can be.
Overall this never manages to rise above it's silly plot. It has it's moments but with lesser stars this would have been just another silly straight-to-video thriller.
Overall, I really liked this movie, which surprised me a little bit. The
trailers I had seen for it had me thinking it was going to be kind of
"cheesy" for lack of a better word, but this was actually very engrossing.
It had an interesting story line, sustained suspense and for the most part
was well acted.
I particularly liked Brittany Murphy as Elisabeth Burrows, the psychiatric inmate whose tortured mind holds the information that Dr. Conrad (Michael Douglas) needs to get in order to save his young daughter Jessie's (Skye McCole Bartusiak) life. Murphy seemed so "into" her character that it was almost spooky to watch her. She was extremely convincing. Douglas I thought also offered up a good performance, as did Sean Bean as Patrick, the head kidnapper. Young Miss Bartusiak was commendable but to me didn't seem to portray the range of emotions I would expect a young child to be feeling in Jesse's circumstances. She just seemed altogether too calm. The same could be said for Famke Janssen as Jessie's mother Aggie Conrad. I realize the character had a broken leg and apparently couldn't get out of bed, but again she just seemed to take the whole thing too calmly (and, when her own life was threatened she seemed able to move around well enough, broken leg or not!) As for Oliver Platt as Conrad's colleague Dr. Sachs? I find that, depending on the movie, I either like Platt or don't (no middle ground) and I didn't care for him in this movie.
Overall, though, the movie was quite good as a vehicle for Douglas. I'd rate it as a 7/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a poorly written and utterly predictable "suspense." Though Brittany
Murphy is a standout, the story is over-the-top - and when you can see
everything coming, it's as suspenseful as watching paint
Spoiler: Michael Douglas has to save his kidnapped daughter. Oh no, will he do it?! Of course - when was the last time a commercial, bloated and sterile Hollywood film killed off a kidnapped child?
It's a remarkably pathetic story on every level: Famke Jannsen has a badly broken leg, yet she ends up killing the hardened criminal out to get her, the kidnappers have been jailed for ten years and within a couple weeks have the skills to operate sophisticated audio and video surveillance material and even hide these items in secure places, and the detective who uncovers the plot has no partner and literally works alone. Outrageous and unrealistic.
It was a very dramatic and suspenseful thriller and the film is never boring. So I can only say a word: G R E A T. Michael Douglas played as usual good in the role as a psychiatrist. Also good performance from Skye McCole as Jessie the little girl. There are some scary scenes. I will add no doubt this DVD to my best of collection. If you liked this movie you shouldn´t miss "KISS THE GIRLS" also from director Gary Fleder or "SINGLE WHITE FEMALE" from Barbet Schroeder. Believe me you will not be disappointed. I think the film is too underrated. I give it a minimum of 8/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS - DON'T READ IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE YET. The current IMDb
average rating of 6.5 is a pretty accurate number. The story is simple. A
crook Patrick (Irishman Sean Bean) just out of 10 years in prison needs to
find the valuable red jewel that got him there in the first place. The
daughter (Elisabeth, played by Brittany Murphy) of the double-crossing
partner he threw in front of the NYC train in 1991 is now 18, the jewel was
in her doll which she placed in his casket, buried on an island with only an
8-digit number identifying the burial plot. Having gone from one hospital to
another as a mentally ill child, she knows the number but won't tell anyone.
So famous child shrink Dr Conrad (Michael Douglas) is forced to find out, in
7 hours on Thanksgiving Day, or they will kill his kidnapped daughter Jessie
(cute, talented Houstonian Skye Bartusiak).
Put that into a straight story and it wouldn't be too exciting. So, we see the 1991 robbery and double-cross at the beginning, then the caption says "ten years later". We see thugs break into an old woman's apartment, no idea why. Dr Conrad gets a "911" call from his associate (Oliver Platt). Dr Conrad's daughter shows up missing. Patrick tells Dr Conrad he has to get an 8-digit number from the patient by 5PM or his daughter will be killed. They don't give him any idea what the number is supposed to represent, no reason other than to create some audience suspense. We don't yet have any idea why she would know the number or what significance it might have.
As the film unwinds we see the crooks have set up elaborate surveillance of Conrad's home, where his wife (Famke Janssen) is immobile, in a cast from a skiing accident. However, near the end she gets on her crutches and puts them to good use battling one crook. Early in the movie we see her scratch her leg under the cast using a long, pointed stick, which she then stores in her cast. We know it will come into better use later, and it does as she shoves it through the heart of the bad guy.
Through a series of somewhat improbable actions everyone ends up on the little island at night where all the anonymous graves are. Liz wants to help save Jessie and, recalling herself on the ferry 10 years earlier, writes the number on a dusty plate of glass. As we watch, it looks like she is writing it backwards and, when they dig up the grave it's the wrong one. Dr Conrad turns the glass upsidedown, they dig up that grave, and presto! the doll and the jewel. In a somewhat innovative ending, Conrad fights a bad guy, a policewoman shows up, shots are fired, Conrad ends up with the jewel and a gun at Patrick's head, throws the jewel into a big pit shored up by wood bracing, pushes Patrick into it, more shots are fired, the pit caves in, Patrick is buried, everyone else lives happily ever after.
A good movie is hard to write, especially writing a good ending. I know I couldn't do it, and this author can't either. The whole movie pretty well follows typical Hollywood thriller formulas, but it is pretty entertaining anyway, especially since the story is told in a way that you don't really know what is going on until the very end. However, there is ultimately no good story here, nothing to take away or to compare to our experiences. That's why it's rating is between 6 and 7.
The acting is uniformly good, and this role is the kind Michael Douglas has played in most of his movies. The real star is Brittany Murphy as Elisabeth. She is nothing short of award-caliber. The DVD extras are among the best, if you enjoy aspects of film-making. There are several behind-the-scenes extras that take you through various phases of making this film. Also included is the original screen test of Brittany Murphy, and it is hard to believe how fully she put herself into the character. This is a case where many will find the DVD extras actually more interesting than the film itself. The sound is selectable to either DTS or Dolby Digital. I listened to the DTS track and it is well-done indeed.
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