Don't Say a Word

Don't Say a Word

USA, 2001. Rated R. 112 minutes.

Cast: Michael Douglas, Brittany Murphy, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen, Jennifer Esposito, Oliver Platt, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Guy Torry, Conrad Goode, Victor Argo, Shawn Doyle
Writers: Patrick Smith Kelly and Anthony Peckham, based on the novel by Andrew Klavan
Music: Mark Isham
Cinematographer: Amir M. Mokri
Producers: Anne Kopelson, Arnold Kopelson, Arnon Milchan
Director: Gary Fleder


Grade: C Review by Carlo Cavagna

i n the spirit of the formulaic new Michael Douglas thriller, Don't Say a Word, I am going to write a formulaic review. Ideally, if this experiment works, you, the reader, should feel much as I felt watching Don't Say a Word. You should get the same sense of effort and creativity from me that I got from the filmmakers. I mean, why should I expend any more energy on the review than the screenwriters did on the screenplay? It's just tiring, coming up with new ways to say, "Eh." So here we go.

<Insert witty or cranky opening remarks.>

Okay, let's go with cranky, that's easier:

Isn't it a basic requirement of a thriller that it be thrilling? If so, then Don't Say a Word is not a thriller. Perhaps if Fox had not given away the setup and all the best moments in a massive campaign of television advertisements and movie trailers, Don't Say a Word would be more exciting. But with those moments given away, all that's left is the rudimentary plot they're hung on. In fact, I'm going to make an unusual recommendation. If you have somehow managed NOT to see the trailer, then you will probably find Don't Say a Word to be a perfectly functional thriller. But if you have, don't bother. You've already seen it.
The Big Picture
ratings explained

<Insert plot summary. Include names of characters and actors.>

I suppose I should write some transition between the introduction and the plot summary first… oops, too late. Oh well, the movie doesn't provide any transition between its opening segment and the rest of the story, either.

In 1991, a gang of criminals robs a safety deposit box at a bank in order to obtain a bewilderingly valuable ruby. One of the robbers double-crosses the gang's leader (Sean Bean), making off with the booty. Flash forward ten years, and we meet psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) living a storybook affluent life with his storybook affluent family, which consists of his daughters Aggie (Famke Janssen) and Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak). Oh wait, Aggie's supposed to be his wife. My mistake.

Sean Bean and his cronies, fresh out of jail and still after the ruby, place Dr. Conrad's apartment under surveillance and kidnap Jessie. They offer to return Jessie in exchange for a six-digit code "locked" in the head of one of Dr. Conrad's new patients, an exceedingly disturbed girl named Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy). Ah, but as the irritating trailers and television advertisements have repeatedly made clear with Murphy's singsong voice, she'll ne-ver te-ell. She'll ne-ver te-ell. Any of us. Meanwhile, Detective Sandra Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito) investigates a murder whose relevance to the rest of the story is unclear.

<Continue by talking about the actors and the director.>Murphy and Douglas

Not much to say. Michael Douglas is Michael Douglas in a Michael Douglas role. He's gotten pretty good at playing Michael Douglas, one must admit. Bean (Goldeneye, Ronin) gives a professional performance, Famke Janssen (Goldeneye, The X-Men) is as miscast with Douglas in this movie as Catherine Zeta-Jones is with Douglas in real life. Oliver Platt (Three to Tango, The Imposters) is barely used, and Guy Torry (American History X, The Animal) doesn't get to be funny. The standout is actually Murphy (Clueless, Girl Interrupted), who despite that annoying singsong "I'll ne-ver te-ell" that has emanated from our nation's television sets for weeks, gives an original and meticulously constructed performance, both physically and verbally, as the disturbed Elisabeth. The movie's best dialogue is in the conversations between she and Dr. Conrad. Too bad she grows to trust Dr. Conrad way too quickly for someone who's been in institutions for ten years and is given to Hannibal Lecter-like violence. Plus, her relationship to the premise is thin to say the least.

As for director Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls), he's obviously confused. Perhaps because he's making an urban thriller with Michael Douglas, he seems to be laboring under the delusion that he's David Fincher (The Game, Seven). Just like Fincher has done in his films, he's tried for a grungy look and manipulated the printing of the film to make everything look dark, metallic, and slightly green. That stylistic decision doesn't add any substance to the story, however, which is far more mechanical than anything Fincher has ever done.

<Insert conclusion encapsulating opinion. End with powerful closing sentence.>

Powerful closing? I don't have one. Neither does Don't Say a Word, which ends with the usual Final Confrontation at the usual Unusual Location. You'll get to see housebound yuppies kicking hardened criminal patootie. Oh, and you'll never believe what those numbers represent--very disappointing. If you spend any time thinking about it (the screenwriters are gambling that you won't), you will realize that the entire premise makes no sense. [Ed. Note: Minor spoiler follows.] Given who Elisabeth turns out to be, it's reasonable to think that Bean & the Gang would conclude that she has some knowledge of the ruby, but there is no way they could know that they need a specific number from her, because she came by that knowledge after they were already locked up in jail and, as the movie shows, she has never had any verbal contact with them. [End spoiler.] No surprise from Fleder, because Kiss the Girls had gaping holes in its logic, too. Anyway, Fleder and the writers just needed a way to end this thing, and obviously didn't care enough to do anything more than combine the standard ingredients of a standard thriller resolution--the Race Against the Clock, the Atypical Setting, the Unexpected Intervention, the Untimely Distraction, etcetera. Fortunately, I don't much care either, so I'll just end this review…now.

Review © September 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Fox and its related entities. All Rights Reserved.

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