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Don't Say A Word

A psychiatrist becomes a pawn in a scheme to retrieve a lost gem. The only one who can help save his kidnapped daughter is a mentally ill 18-year-old girl with an important number locked away in her head. But that's the only good part of the movie.


The plot starts off exciting enough: a motley group steals a rare gem, but two of the thieves doublecross bad guy Patrick (Sean Bean) and take off with the precious stone. Jumping ahead 10 years, we meet Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas), a prominent New York psychiatrist with a loving wife (Famke Janssen) and an adorable 8-year-old daughter (Skye McCole Bartusiak). Life is good, until Nathan is summoned by a colleague (Oliver Platt) to examine a disturbed young woman, Elisabeth (Brittany Murphy). The next day, he discovers the ruthless Patrick has kidnapped his daughter. The only way to get her back is to extract a six-digit number locked away in Elisabeth's troubled mind, a number leading to the gem. But then the film lapses into the predictable: Nathan races to save his daughter and try to solve the puzzle of the traumatic event, which sent Elisabeth off into la-la land.


Douglas certainly has had plenty of moments to shine in his career, but this isn't one of them. He plays it pretty straight and boring, leaving nothing to let him stretch his acting abilities. Following along the same lines, Bean, another fine actor who rarely gets to break out of the bad guy role, plays a cookie-cutter villain with nothing more than his menacing looks and voice to keep him going. Murphy's performance as the complex Elisabeth has been talked about as Oscar bait-but we are not sure why. What starts off as an intriguing portrayal of yet another mentally disturbed character--her other being her role in Girl, Interrupted, which was much more interesting--dissolves into a lost-little-girl syndrome. Actually, the two characters that stand out are Bartusiak as the spunky daughter and Jennifer Esposito (Summer of Sam) as a detective hot on the jewel thieves' trail.


Word starts off with such a bang, you immediately get involved and think it may actually be a good movie. Director Gary Felder takes us right into Conrad's happy world and then turns it upside down when Conrad realizes what he must do to get his daughter back. It may be hard to believe Patrick, after spending the last 10 years in jail, would know that Elisabeth holds the key to finding the gem, but the cat-and-mouse game Elisabeth plays with Dr. Conrad is fascinating. This plot device could have been taken into so many different directions, especially since Douglas and Murphy have a very interesting rapport. Even the subplot involving the little girl and her attempts to escape, while her mother, with a broken leg, tries desperately to find her, could have been taken further. But the film goes ahead and ends predictably, and we're left saying how much better we could have made it.

Bottom Line

A tense thriller up to a certain point, it is Don't Say a Word's many missed opportunities that made the film disappointing.