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Published: Friday, 9/28/2001 - Updated: 1 year ago

Don't Say a Word: Thrills, chills, and a predictable ending

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Based on the thriller by Andrew Klavan, Don't Say a Word is slickly entertaining even as events move in purely predictable patterns.

Thank the talented cast for the entertainment factor. Michael Douglas plays Nathan Conrad, a psychiatrist with a talent for helping troubled teenagers. Famke Janssen is Conrad's wife, Aggie, stuck in bed with a broken leg, and Brittany Murphy and Skye McCole Bartusiak portray two youngsters Conrad is desperate to help, for different reasons. In counterpoint to the others is Sean Bean as the exceedingly nasty criminal mastermind, Patrick Koster.

The collision of all these characters occurs when Conrad and Aggie awaken on Thanksgiving Day to discover that their 8-year-old daughter, Jessie (Bartusiak), has been kidnapped from her bed in their New York apartment. A telephone call introduces the Conrads to Koster (Bean), who says that he has the child and will give her back when Conrad retrieves a six-digit number from the mind of teenager Elisabeth Burrows (Murphy), who has been in mental hospitals for more than nine years.

Oh, and Conrad has only 10 hours in which to retrieve the information, and he'd better not call the cops because Koster sees all and knows all. That sounds a bit hokey to Conrad, but Koster proves that it's so.

Of course, this sets in motion the race against the clock, with Conrad trying to help Elisabeth remember even as he tries to figure out how to thwart Koster.

The action proceeds in a paint-by-the-numbers manner, in which credibility takes a battering and leaps of logic are made with Superman-sized bounds. But director Gary Fleder, whose previous work includes Kiss the Girls, has honed his ability to sustain tension against all odds. And author Klavan and screenwriters Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly obviously used elements from Alfred Hitchcock in constructing their scenarios. Hey, if you're going to borrow, why not borrow from the best?

Murphy, who appeared with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted, grabs the screen as the paranoid schizophrenic whose fears for her life are very real. If her character's return to reality seems a little too pat, the young actress makes it easy to swallow.

Douglas is less convincing as the loving parent, but when his family is threatened, he turns into a force of nature, nostrils flaring, chin jutting. Instead of persuading, he bulldozes the audience into believing that his character's brilliance and manliness will save the day. And as a bulldozer, he's pretty good.

As for the other characters, Bean creates a sense of dread just by showing up, which greatly enhances the suspense, because he shows up often. Young Bartusiak is precocious, but winningly so, and Jennifer Esposito is convincing as the tenacious detective whose investigation of several murders puts her in the path of Koster and Conrad.

Don't Say a Word never manages to make us believe the ending will be anything but happy, but it knows which buttons to push to provide plenty of suspense for the journey.



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