By Kristin Battestella
I’m sure you know someone who imitates Brittany Murphy’s haunting chirp; perhaps you do a good one yourself. Don’t Say A Word is much more than a Murphy romp, but its not as much as it could be.
Michael Douglas (Wall Street) leads a fine cast as Dr. Nathan Conrad, a psychiatrist with a flare for helping troubled young folk. His wife Aggie (Famke Janssen, X-Men) is laid up at the Conrad’s posh townhouse with a broken leg and daughter Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak, 24). All seems just peachy until Dr. Conrad receives an emergency call on Thanksgiving Eve. Dr. Louis Sachs (Oliver Platt, The West Wing) needs Nathan’s insights on a new patient, Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy, Sin City). After his initial visit with Elisabeth, the holiday morning seems grand-until the Conrads discover Jessie has been abducted during the night. Jewel thief turned kidnapper Patrick Koster (Sean Bean, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) calls Dr. Conrad with his demands; Get the number locked inside Elisabeth’s troubled mind or Jessie is dead.
Based on the novel by Andrew Klavan with a screenplay from Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly (A Perfect Murder), Don’t Say A Word certainly has an intriguing premise. The opening robbery scene and subsequent patient and family sets establish who everyone is and what is happening. The suspense and food for thought comes in the unanswered why. How did Koster come to Nathan? What is the number? The direction from Fleder (Kiss the Girls) and the performances onscreen are realistic and well played. It’s tough to have an action opening followed by seemingly random looks into a
Michael Douglas is on form as the sympathetic yet intelligent Dr. Conrad. At first we might find him uppity and smug-Nathan has left the down trodden psychiatric hospital for uptown and lucrative psychiatry. Oddly enough, you are rooting more for the opening heist. You want the double cross on Koster to succeed. Seeing how Dr. Conrad and his family get caught in Koster’s revenge scheme instantly makes the determined father likeable.
Often typecast as the villain courtesy of his vile roles in Patriot Games and Essex Boys, Bean is creepy as ever in Don’t Say A Word. We’ve seen his villainy before, but American audiences may not be as familiar with Bean’s voice, unlike his popular narration, commercial, and voice over work in the
Strangely, Brittany Murphy doesn’t have much to do beyond the ticks and chants of the stereotypical crazy person on film. Bartusiak’s Jessie is cute enough, but the strength of these characters is raised by the three leads. The Conrads want their daughter, Nathan reaches out to Elisabeth like a father to a daughter, and both the younger girls are very important to Koster and his schemes.
I would like to have seen more of the authorities’ storyline. Jennifer Esposito’s Detective Cassidy is always one step behind. It’s a shame her scenes aren’t given more weight to parallel the main focuses. Yes, another thread to conclude may not always be a good thing, but somewhere halfway through Don’t Say A Word, things get a little obvious. The intelligent layers peel down to other stereotypical themes. It turns out Elisabeth isn’t all that troubled after all, everyone has their rah rah moment and then it’s time to move onto Thanksgiving Dinner. For all the fine performances and mature set up in Don’t Say A Word, the end wraps up almost too nicely. I liked Don’t Say A Word and am still recommending it to intelligent audiences, but intrigued viewers must look to the DVD features for more in depth scenes and analysis. Cast and director commentaries, storyboards, and deleted scenes give some fulfillment.