Don't Say a Word Review
In 1996, Gary Fleder, the director of Don't Say a Word, made the flawed but highly enjoyable Things to do in Denver when you're dead. Critics the world round noticed the film, and made approving notes along the lines of 'possible next Tarantino figure'. Unfortunately, Fleder's next project was the decidedly lacklustre Kiss the Girls, which put a stop to the rumours that he was in any way an auteur of some sort, and Don't Say a Word utterly buries any trace of the talent that Denver showcased. It's not that the film is bad as such, just a crushingly predictable and run-of-the-mill 'thriller' all too reminiscent of dozens of others.
As based on the bestseller by Andrew Klavan, the plot is one of those complicated affairs where an awful lot of plotting cannot compensate for a decidedly straightforward storyline. Nathan Conrad (Douglas) is a successful psychiatrist, with a beautiful wife (Janssen) and an obnoxiously cloying daughter, who is promptly kidnapped by a gang of robbers, as led by Patrick Koster (Bean). Koster demands that Conrad extract a 6-digit code from a semi-catatonic patient of his, Elizabeth Burrows (Murphy), if he ever wants to see his daughter again. Things get more complicated, but not especially interestingly or surprisingly.
If we're going to start going through everything that is wrong with the film, it'd become tiresome very quickly, so the main faults can be isolated instead. The plot has more holes than a tea strainer, with at least one key plot revelation concerning Oliver Platt's character coming across as so unlikely that the only response is doomed to be incredulous laughter. The film also suffers from the usual fault of characters refusing to behave in ways that are at all believable or realistic; although it would be unfair to spoil the film for those Michael Douglas fans out there, a couple of especially stupid moments come towards the end of the film, where we have the usual plot device of the intrepid detective who doesn't call for back up until the last possible moment, for unknown reasons. It's also worth noting that the film is frequently surprisingly dull; the relationship between Burrows and Conrad, a potentially fascinating source of conflict, is all but squandered in favour of empty 'emotional' scenes between the two.
The film's certainly technically competent in all departments, with some nice cinematography and an appropriately brooding score, and the performances are all fine, with Douglas and Bean the two best. Janssen, unfortunately, has what must be one of the most thankless roles she has ever had, given that she is confined to a bed with a broken leg for most of the film; shades of Rear Window, perhaps, but Hitchcock's masterpiece had more tension, humour and intrigue in a single moment than this does in its entire running time. Fleder may have proved that he is a competent enough director of B-movies; however, such faint praise is hardly the sort of thing that most filmmakers would want to have decorating their graves.
Slightly surprisingly for Fox, this isn't quite up to their usual excellent standards. Colours frequently seem too dark or slightly muddy, with a loss of detail, especially towards the end, and there is fairly heavy edge enhancement throughout. The transfer is mostly fine, apart from these faults, but it's still a comedown of sorts for Fox.
At first, with a fairly intense opening sequence, this appears to be a superb soundtrack, utilising the surrounds beautifully, and giving the subwoofer quite a workout. Unfortunately, it soon settles down into a less interesting mix, with adequate DTS and Dolby mixes, but little more; dialogue and music are clear enough, but there is nothing really spectacular here, even in the 'action scenes'.
The extra features pose a more interesting question than the film does, namely: 'If a film is almost entirely unexceptional, what's the point of it having a superb set of special features?' Fox, who have rightly been praised for their superb special editions in the past, have done splendidly again here in terms of content on paper; however, it's unlikely that anyone would be so impressed by the film that they were genuinely fascinated by them all. First up are a pair of commentaries, or, to be more accurate, one and a half commentaries. Fleder's track is fairly standard back-slapping stuff, with virtually no revelations of any interest, other than- quelle surprise- Michael Douglas is a 'really inspiring person'. Douglas himself is of more interest on the scene-specific second track, where the lead actors each comment on a pair of scenes; although they have little to really say, there's something quite enjoyable about listening to a 10-minute commentary by the likes of Famke Janssen and Sean Bean, for some reason.
The next feature is the most impressive, and should promptly be implemented on some far better releases. It's a 'cinema master class', which essentially covers the film from pre to post production, including such things as screen tests, behind-the-scenes footage, storyboard comparisons, soundtrack production, animatics, a set tour and conversations with Fleder and the producers. All are moderately interesting in the context of what the participants have to say about the film, and would be far more interesting were the film considerably superior. There's around an hour of footage here, and it's good to see such an in-depth look at a film, albeit on an unworthy subject. The rest of the extras are less interesting, with some incredibly short (around 2 and a half minutes the three) deleted scenes, an 'I play…and it was wonderful' featurette, some rather well-written and interesting filmographies, and the trailer. A good selection, then; shame that it adds up to little in the context that it's in.
A profoundly unremarkable film is released on a technically unremarkable disc, with some superb extras making this a slightly more interesting proposition than it perhaps otherwise would be. Worth watching, especially given that the film hasn't even come out at UK cinemas yet, but it's unlikely that this is ever going to become anyone's new favourite film.