Every fall, Hollywood trots out their latest thrillers. I suppose there is a hidden connection in the biting of nails and the changing of the leaves, yet without fail every year there are enough thrillers to keep manicurists in business. Nothing sums up the quintessential fall thriller quite like "Don't Say A Word" (IMDb listing). As routine as they come, yet diverting enough to fool you into a good time, "Don't Say A Word" makes one wish for a leap in time to the holiday Oscar contenders already.
Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) is a successful psychiatrist with a beautiful wife (Famke Janssen) and a cherubic daughter. On Thanksgiving morning, a group of bad guys, lead by Patrick Koster (Sean Bean), break into Nathan's apartment and kidnap his daughter. What the men want is a jewel they lost 10 years earlier in a botched robbery that is being held in a secret place by Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), a mentally unstable young girl rotting away in a hospital. Since Nathan seems to be the only medical professional she trusts, Patrick uses him as a pawn to recover the jewel. Nathan is soon at the mercy of the kidnappers, but as he gets deeper into Elisabeth's mind, he realizes the young girl could be helped after all.
It's perfect casting to place Michael Douglas in the lead role, as no one can play yuppie paranoia quite like he can. Douglas has perfected this type of performance with his work in "Fatal Attraction" and "A Perfect Murder." Douglas is a little more subdued than normal in this film, as his aging seems to be wearing away his ability to play the hot, rich stud who gets in over his head. The film does contain many moments of pure distressed Douglas (his forte). With his hair glistening, teeth clenched and his eyes scanning the room, Douglasat least in the first act of the filmmakes an attempt to carry the picture with his expected bag of tricks. Soon enough, director Gary Fleder places too much narrative nonsense on Douglas' shoulders, and the actor eventually just gives up and lets the genre's conventions take him to the safety of the end credits.
Director Fleder is no stranger to the fall thriller game, having directed both "Kiss The Girls" and the rollicking "Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead." Not really an imaginative director, Fleder nevertheless can be counted on to get the job done. With "Don't Say A Word," Fleder isn't working with a particularly good script, so he falls back on what has worked for him before. This plan of attack from Fleder leaves the picture stale and overtly familiar. The film is not interested in adding new elements to the plot to keep things at least appearing fresh, making "Don't Say A Word" more boring than exciting.
The thriller, which is set in New York City, uses the city and apartment locations well, creating a nice sense of claustrophobia. It is when the action suddenly leaves the confines of the city and moves to a cemetery on a nearby island that the picture loses quite a bit of tension and interest. Moving to an obviously-a-soundstage cemetery ruins the fun of seeing the characters freak out in their narrow apartments and office spaces. The film must end with a cliched showdown (I can accept that), which is the reason for the move to a different location, but Fleder makes a big mistake taking the story away from the grip of the big bad city.
The one element that Fleder does get right is the casting of actress Brittany Murphy. A powderkeg of emotions, Murphy is the perfect choice to play the deranged Elisabeth. Murphy is a grand talent (where is her Emmy for her voice work as Luanne Platter on "King Of The Hill"?), and the only actress in Hollywood that I am scared of. Unpredictable and bristling with untapped passions, Murphy makes a vivid impression in "Don't Say A Word."
You've seen this type of film before, and just because it's the time of year when apples taste the best doesn't make this barely alive thriller any more enjoyable. For fans of the genre, "Don't Say A Word" is another solid installment in the Michael Douglas vs. New York crime saga. Just don't expect any surprises.
Filmfodder Grade: C