Retro Review: Don’t Say a Word

Hush feel the silence as another thriller slowly filters its way into movie history.

Twentieth Century Fox presents Michael Douglas as Nathan Conrad, a wealthy psychiatrist who becomes embroiled in a “cat-and-mouse” game with Patrick Koster (Sean Bean), a sinister jewel thief. To stir the pot and to drive Conrad insane, Koster kidnaps Conrad’s eight-year old daughter, Jessie.

Conrad must unlock a secret buried in the heavily twisted mind of Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), one of Conrad’s recently acquired patients, to save his daughter. Conrad was reluctant to treat the patient but was convinced by Dr. Louis Sachs (Oliver Platt), a colleague and family friend.

What is the key locked away in Elisabeth’s twisted mind? What is the kidnappers real motive and what is at the center of this insane game?

“Don’t Say a Word” is one of those “child-in-jeopardy” movies that have become popular in recent years as a new formula for the thriller-genre. Films like “Ransom”, “Mercury Rising”, and “Bless the Child” have used this formula to accentuate the suspense.

There is no love purer than the love between a parent and it’s child. Playing on that is a manipulation of our emotions. What’s probably the saddest point about this new formula is that no matter what happens in the film you know Hollywood would never kill a child for the sake of suspense.

In a European noir film, I could see them playing that card. This theory and assumption makes me wonder then why even make a film about this subject matter. I hate that films like these are even made because children should be protected and cherished not used as suspense thriller ploys.

Placing that theory to the side, “Don’t” does offer up some great performances but I do believe the film would have worked just as well if Conrad’s wife or himself were threatened instead of the child.

Douglas does well with the desperate father character. I really enjoyed how he deals with the initial shock of Jessie’s disappearance but found his performance really dove south as the film progressed.

Janssen is the typical trophy wife who happens to be bed-ridden. Her character is basically useless and which does make us ponder why didn’t they grab her instead of the daughter since she wasn’t obviously going anywhere.

Bean and Platt are once more pigeonholed into roles they have played countless times. Platt is probably paying for his jump to television last year with the quickly forgotten, “Deadline”.

The standout performance is by Brittany Murphy who really capitalizes on the mental patient role and blows Douglas off the screen in some scenes.

Here’s an idea for a thriller, how about a suspense thriller about a prominent psychiatrist, who happens to be a woman, faces the unexpected when her husband is kidnapped? For suspense they can add in that the husband has been cheating on the wife for years and that their perfect life is a fraud. That would really make us question if the victim will live through the kidnapping.

Kidnap-thrillers today never seem to really push the envelope (not that the envelope should be pushed in a “child-in-jeopardy” thriller) but give us doubt that the captive will live and make us feel the rescuer’s struggle.

In conclusion, “Don’t” is a generic kidnap thriller which never sheds new ground on a recently over-used formula. Douglas needs to make another sex-thriller soon or he is going to lose his thriller marketability. Why not make a thriller with your wife, Mike?

(2 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

Footnote: What the heck is Hart Island all about? Can a New Yorker help me?

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