A review of  Don't Say a Word” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for gunplay, explosions, violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

 

The first thriller with the mettle to make a post-attack appearance on the cinema scene is a gutsy, sinister, race-against-the-clock that keeps the tension flowing to the bitter end.

Michael Douglas has an oeuvre groove, and he’ll milk the formula until his looks go south.  Dishy spouse, precocious child, fabulous NYC digs (think “Fatal Attraction”, think “A Perfect Murder”) – all jeopardized in one fateful moment by either a self-imposed deed or an outsider’s nasty misdeed.  Can Douglas right the wrongs? Can he save his wife/child/marriage/leather recliner?

This time around, Douglas plays Dr. Nathan Conrad, a gifted psychologist with a touch for the teens.  Conrad leads a loving home life with wife Aggie (Famke Janssen) and beautiful 8-year old Jessie, precocious and whip-smart. The grim realities of dismal psychiatric hospitals and schizophrenic patients are left at the office, but are perpetually simmering beneath Conrad’s sophisticated surface. When Jessie is unexpectedly kidnapped from the Conrads’ apartment on a crisp, Thanksgiving morning, domestic tranquility comes crashing to a close.

The kidnappers are quick to contact the Conrads.  They will return Jessie in exchange for a number – a six digit number buried in the head of Conrad’s catatonic, eighteen-year old patient Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy).  Six digits in eight hours, or say goodbye to Jessie.  With a decade of pathology to unravel, Conrad is racing against the clock and against the odds to save his daughter from doom.

It’s the Douglas formula and it works.  By barely keeping a lid on his temper, Douglas exudes the desperation necessary to ratchet up the tension for a two-hour stretch.  The gritty, washed-out cityscape (unfortunately including long-distance glimpses of the World Trade Center) lends credibility to the horrific storyline. 

Solid supporting players make Douglas’ job a lot easier.  Oliver Platt as the bumbling psychiatric colleague, Jennifer Esposito as a savvy city detective, and Sean Bean as the vicious, determined criminal – all give strong, persuasive performances.  Skye McCole Bartusiak (ode to the new millennium moniker?) is terrific as Jessie, though a tad too urbane for eight. Brittany Murphy (“Girl, Interrupted”) demonstrates once again that she’s the real thing – nailing the defiant, mentally challenged trauma patient who needs to face up to a lifetime of hurt in a single day.  Climax is unfortunately dark, as in “who turned out the lights”?  Back in the saddle with the basic thriller – and it works.