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Don't Say A Word

Reviewed by: David Litton
Genre: Drama
Video: 2.35:1 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Language: English, French
Subtitle: English
Length: 1 hr, 53 min
Rating: R
Release Date: NA
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Commentary: Feature commentary with director Gary Fleder, scene-specific commentaries with cast members Michael Douglas, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen, Brittany Murphy, and Oliver Platt
Documentaries: See below
Featurettes: Making-of featurette
Filmography/Biography: Yes
Interviews: Interspersed throughout other features
Trailers/TV Spots: "Wallstreet" trailer
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: 3 deleted scenes
Music Video: No
Other: Cinema Master Class, a section breaking down the movie into pre-production, production, and post production through behind-the-scenes material and footage
Cast and Crew: Michael Douglas, Sean Bean, Brittany Murphy, Famke Janssen
Screenplay by: Written by: Anthony Peckham, Patrick Smith Kelly
Produced by: Arnon Milchan, Arnold and Anne Kopelson
Directed By: Gary Fleder
Music: Mark Isham
The Review:

Originality doesn't exactly seem to the director Gary Fleder's strong suit in "Don't Say A Word," which puts actor Michael Douglas in a comfort zone as a father whose family is put in jeopardy by someone out for something he holds the key to. As far as thrillers go these days, the film takes us right where we know it's going to go, but it's well-made, with terrific performances from Douglas and the rest of the cast, and a director whose competency in the genre is in full vigor. ****

The story is adapted from the novel by Andrew Klavan, and begins by introducing us to a heist situation that goes sour. Moving ahead ten years, we meet Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas), an adolescent psychologist known for his success with troubled teens. On the morning of Thanksgiving Day, he discovers his daughter has been kidnapped, held by the men seen in the opening scene who are demanding a piece of information tucked away in the mind of Nathan's newest patient, an 18-year-old catatonic. ****

As far as these situations go, Nathan finds himself in a tight spot. The kidnappers are able to keep watch over his apartment, leaving him little room for thwarting their demands. His wife, Aggie (Famke Janssen), is bedridden due to a skiing accident, virtually leaving her in harm's way when he ventures back to the hospital to question the easily-unsettled Elisabeth (Brittany Murphy). ****

Like most thrillers, there are some technical issues concerning minor plot points, many of which are easily overlooked. There's the question of how the kidnappers were able to set up surveillance on the Conrads with such ease, or how, despite the amount of security surrounding Elisabeth, they were able to plant a bug in her hospital room. These assumptions to unanswered questions are hardly ignorable, but do not exactly hinder the overall success of the film. ****

Fleder is able to keep things moving very steadily, providing a window of time that keeps us in the moment as Nathan races against the clock to progressively unlock the haunting memories in Elisabeth's subconscious. Not only that, but we are also given some well-constructed scenes between kidnapper and kidnappee, as well as some plot provided to the injured Aggie. The subplot involving a female cop played by Jennifer Esposito is a basic throwaway twist, but it fits in with the material nicely. ****

Once again, Douglas is at the top of his game, recalling his family instinct from "Fatal Attraction" and his drive for answers from "Basic Instinct," and fitting them into his character's father status. He's stern and emotional, two things we love him for, and manages some effective moments with Murphy, who is well on her way to stardom. Janssen is, as always, a joy to watch onscreen, and Sean Bean, as the standard villain, is more or less conniving without being truly menacing. ****

Once things get moving, there are some plot twists and developments that contain the element of surprise, while others are foreseen minutes before they occur. But "Don't Say A Word" is a thriller that plays by the rules, and on that basis, it's entertaining without concerning itself with fresh tactics. ****

Image and Sound You can't go wrong with "Don't Say a Word" in terms of quality. The images in the anamorphic widescreen image are full of dark hues and saturated colors, all of which are crisp and never bleed. The picture is very sharp, without pixelization or apparent distractions, making for a pleasant viewing experience. The listening experience is equally pleasing, with both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that contain deep bass reserved for music and gunshots, centered dialogue, and a wrap-around effect that engages in the more intense sequences. In short, it's a well-mastered DVD that's sure to please. -
The Extras

It's unusual for a studio to go all out for a DVD release of a movie that didn't score big bucks at the box office, but "Don't Say A Word" appears to be the exception. Why this wasn't dubbed a "special edition" I don't know; it contains more than the normal releases that Twentieth Century Fox dubs with such a title, and is satisfactory in that it stays related to the movie itself. ****

A section entitled "Cinema Master Class" features two subsections, one devoted to pre-production material that includes an outstanding performance from Brittany Murphy in a screen test, storyboard-to-screen comparisons showcasing the ways in which scenes are preconceived, and an interview with producers Arnold and Anne Kopelson, who show a great deal of devotion to the project. The section on production goes into such things as set designs and interviews about the choices made in regards to texture and style, all of which is guided by interviews with Fleder. The scene in which Aggie escapes in broken down into angles, and then presented in its completed sequence, followed by a tour of the sets with production designer Nelson Coates. And then we have post-production, which features conversations with Fleder about the scoring of the movie, and previsualizing certain scenes. ****

Following this well-constructed section are three deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette that is jam-packed with cast and crew interviews that keep the interest at a fulfilling level. The trailer for Michael Douglas's Oscar-winning role in "Wall Street" is out of place, but that doesn't stop the DVD for "Don't Say A Word" from providing the viewer with an in-depth look at filmmaking. **** --

Commentary Take, for instance, the various commentaries on the film, one of which is a feature-length commentary with director Gary Fleder. In it, he discusses things from working with the cast to the various technical aspects of bringing the story to the screen. Aside from his commentary are five scene-specific commentaries, in which cast members Michael Douglas, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen, Brittany Murphy, and Oliver Platt discuss their work in certain scenes in the film. Not only are these interesting, but they provide a closer look at things like the acting, the technical setup, and various other elements needed to make the film work.
Final Words:

As a movie, "Don't Say a Word" plays by the rules; not always a successful road, but this thriller proves itself as a satisfying experience despite its predictability. The DVD may as well be a special edition, what with everything that's been included, and provides some nice background info on the film.

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April 18, 2002