Director Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls) doesn’t need to say a word: He fashions Andrew Klavan’s novel into a richly colored moving picture book of suspenseful, but two-dimensional, melodrama that makes strange bedfellows of ruthless crime and simplistic psychiatry.
Michael Douglas credibly plays psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Conrad, the latest model of Douglas’ all-American Dr. Jekyll who finds his inner Mr. Hyde freed when his seemingly perfect world is shattered. Patrick Koster (Sean Bean) and his crew of vicious jewel thieves are the hammer. Koster kidnaps Conrad’s 8-year-old daughter, Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak), in order to extort the doctor to take on a nearly hopeless case of analysis. Conrad has until 5 p.m. to find a number buried beneath the psychological scars of a young woman, Elizabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), institutionalized for a decade after being traumatized by witnessing her father (a member of Koster’s crew) violently die after his sleight-of-hand boost of a jewel was discovered. If Conrad fails to recover the number that leads to the loot, Jessie dies.
Don’t Say a Word starts with a dynamic bang out of the cold blue shades of Koster’s crime world that seep and flood into the warm golds of Conrad’s family life. The blue-and-yellow hues collide as crime and family did at what Conrad (in the shadow of recent events) ironically calls Elizabeth’s “ground zero,” and blend into the drowning green of her psych-ward cell.
But even a stylish Michael Douglas thriller (such as The Game) needs more than visual artistry. Don’t Say a Word does thrill with shocks and moments of muscle-clenching suspense, but Fleder’s attempts at melodrama and romance fall flat. Fleder has dressed up a contrived police and psychiatric procedural (marred with predictable clichés) with gorgeous direction. His pictures are worth a thousand words, but Don’t Say a Word doesn’t have much to say.
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E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].