|Don't Say a Word|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 19 February 2002|
In 1991, a team of bank robbers headed by the very determined Patrick Koster (Sean Bean) stage a successful heist. However, something goes wrong – we don’t know what it is, but we can tell Koster is plenty angry. Ten years later, acclaimed and wealthy Manhattan psychiatrist Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) reluctantly takes time away from his Thanksgiving holiday with loving wife Aggie (Famke Janssen) and adored eight-year-old daughter Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak) to heed the call of old colleague Louis Sachs (Oliver Platt). One of Louis’s patients, Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), in and out of mental institutions from age 10 onward with a strange array of symptoms, has just brutally attacked an orderly and now won’t talk. Can Nathan help her before she’s locked up as psychotically dangerous for the rest of her life? Nathan has an alarming session with Elisabeth – and then wakes up the next morning to discover that his daughter has been kidnapped.
The first meeting between Nathan and Elisabeth is truly done well – director Gary Fleder creates a sense of borderline horror, so that we fear something horrible may happen at any instant. However, once the script by Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly starts its revelations, we find ourselves asking many questions. Elisabeth’s madness is such an enormous issue in the story that whether it’s real or feigned, it seems to beg credibility that she could open up to Nathan in the time frame provided. The villains, depicted as being meticulous in their planning, make a huge error and the big secret at the heart of the mystery turns out to be moderately mundane in genre terms.
Even so, "Don’t Say a Word" is moderately entertaining. Fleder is a good stylist – his audio commentary is full of observations about how particular shots were constructed and then optically treated in the lab – his pacing is good and individual sequences are pleasingly tense. Douglas is well-cast as a man who has stature and compassion, but has gotten just a little complacent about both when he’s hit with a crisis that makes him stretch.
The sound on the DVD is extremely diligent when it comes to sound direction. In Chapter 25, for example, when we’re in a damp tunnel, dripping water in the rears suddenly cuts out and appears in the mains – because the shot has reversed and the water is now in front of rather than behind the characters. This kind of intelligent detail is evident throughout – in Chapter 1, when a car fishtails left to right, so does the sound; helicopters circling a harbor in Chapter 6 likewise circle through the speaker array. Chapters 7 and 13 have some really impressive sound effects mixes, with the former combining such diverse and directionally specific elements as fluttering pigeons, jackhammers, wind, traffic and ominous music score and the latter encompassing ripping paper, echoes and a nice layer of room ambience. The dialogue track is consistently strong and solid in the center channel and big ambient effects, like a rumbling subway in Chapter 22, make themselves physically felt via the subwoofer. Curiously, though, other big effects are on the low-key side. In Chapter 1, it makes sense for a big explosion to be on the quiet side – it’s in the distance, after all – but gunshots in Chapter 30 are almost plinky and there’s surprisingly little impact on a climactic physical phenomenon.
In the audio commentary, Fleder talks about using a skip-bleach process on the negative, so that flashbacks and hospital sequences are visually awash in metallic blues and greens. This gives "Don’t Say a Word" a distinctive look, but the color – while far from washed out – is not as vibrant as it might be in sequences when all is supposed to be well. Imagery is very sharp throughout – in Chapter 31, as red police car lights twinkle in a dark blue mist, the shots are gratifyingly clear and precise.
Apart from Fleder’s commentary – which refreshingly points out flaws the average viewer might not even catch – the DVD has quite a few other extras, including commentary on two scenes each by five of the cast members. Bean’s is perhaps the most charming – like most good actors, he easily slips into a mindset where his character’s actions make sense to him. Commentary in all cases is in the center, with the regular track muted in the mains. Three deleted scenes are pretty inconsequential.
"Don’t Say a Word" doesn’t live up to the fascination its early segments hint at, but it’s still an okay way to kill a few hours.