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Introduction
In the wake of the tragic events of September 11th 2001, a number of films set in New York city had their releases delayed or were digitally altered to remove shots that included the World Trade Center. In the days after that tragic event I found myself uninterested in stories that took place in the Big Apple especially films that portrayed the darker side of the city. While it took a few days before I was in the state of mind to continue reviewing it would not be for nearly two weeks that I would view a film set in the area. The weekend of September 30th would change that when I took in two drastically different films both set in the city. "Zoolander" which had no firm basis in reality and "Don't Say a Word" which was the first real test for me post 9/11. I didn't initially like it but I felt my thoughts were influenced by the events. Now that it's out on DVD I'm able to revisit it with a clear head.

Movie
The film begins in the mid 1980's where a group of bank robbers have constructed a complex plot to break into a bank to get at the contents of a safety deposit box. They are not happy with taking all the banks money like normal robbers would; in fact they don't even steal any money. The item they are looking for is some sort of precious stone worth upwards of 10 million dollars.  They manage to get the stone but through some sort of switch-a-roo they lose track of it. Now 10 years later we meet Dr Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) who has an upscale psychology practice with an office on the Upper East Side. He deals primarily in rich teenage clients whose biggest problems seem to be sneaking peaks at girls changing in the locker room. His life is going pretty well as he has a successful practice, a wife Aggie (Famke Jansen) and a young daughter. It's Thanksgiving eve and he's on his way home to his family when he is called to a mental facility by his old friend Dr Sachs (Oliver Platt). Sachs asks him to examine a seriously disturbed young girl who has been in and out of various facilities for the last 10 years. It's time sensitive so Nathan says he'll take a quick look. Elizabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy) is a seventeen year old girl presenting almost every symptom in the book. Unable to provide a quick fix he retires for the evening and returns to his upscale Manhatten apartment where he finds his daughter still awake though it's way past her bed time. He says good night to his injured wife who is in traction and restricted to bed. The next morning Nathan prepares breakfast for the family but when he goes to find his daughter she is no where to be found. He then sees the door has been broken into. Panicked he goes to tell his wife...when the phone rings. The caller is Patrick Koster (Sean Bean) one of the criminals from the prologue. He explains that they have his daughter and in order to have her returned home safely he needs to unlock Elizabeth's mind. It seems as though Elizabeth is somehow connected to them and has been keeping this number secret for the past 10 years. If this wasn't hard enough Koster has set the deadline as 5pm that evening. As Nathan races against the clock, things begin to unravel.

Dr Nathan Conrad
Gary Fleder the director of this film is relatively inexperienced with this being only the 4th film to his name. He starts off with the right idea and for awhile it seems as if this film is going to go somewhere. However it's engine sputters out and dies shortly after the main plot line is identified. The film becomes extremely unfocused as pointless subplots are intertwined with the main story in order to keep the viewers interest in the film and away from the countless holes in the film logic. For example, how do the kidnappers break into the apartment in the middle of the night, snatch the girl and find the time to set up the most complex video monitoring system ever seen on film. The next leap of faith logic wise is that Aggie the helpless wife all of a sudden has enough strength to try and do something about the situation. On the subject of the subplots we have a detective character investigating a seamless unrelated murder and just when the film is getting tense Fleder cuts over to her story line. While we do find out how she's connected it's a wire thin connection at best. However the list of the film's problems don't end there as character development seems to be a foreign concept in this film.  Only Nathan Conrad appears to have any back story to him and even that is shaky at best. There are scenes with him and a colleague and it appears as though Nathan used to work charity cases as well before going after the upscale market. Still it's not very clear what the relationship between the two doctors is and how Nathan got where he is today.

The cast assembled by casting director Avy Kaufman is a talented bunch comprised of veteran Michael Douglas, character actors Sean Bean and Oliver Platt, and hot upandcomers  like Brittany Murphy and Jennifer Esposito.  So on paper we have what could lead to a number of strong performances. This however isn't the case as most of the talent is waisted in small underdeveloped roles. Michael Douglas is by the lead here and does an adequate job with the limited material he is given. This isn't a particular exciting or motivated character and to put it quite simply I'm not sure what he saw in this part. After his deep and powerful performance in "Traffic" this seems like a role a less accomplished actor would sign on to. After Douglas the most noteworthy performance comes from Brittany Murphy who to this point has been known for her sunny disposition type roles. Murphy takes a decidedly dark turn here as the troubled teen Elizabeth Burrows. She is good in the role and at times is near brilliant. However, these sparks are few and far between and her presence and performance alone are not enough to overcome the shallowness of her character. Two time villain Sean Bean goes for the hat trick here and although he tries hard there isn't enough material to make this villain memorable. Bean's Bond co-star Famke Janssen is stuck with the worst role of the film Aggie Conrad, the bedridden wife of Douglas's character. For the most part she is stuck helpless with her leg in a cast. She does the best she can but there's nothing much she can do to improve a character so thinly written that my second grade story characters had more depth.  Also along for the ride are Jennifer Esposito best known as Stacey from "Spin City" as a police detective and Oliver Platt in a role so small and unconnected it seems they brought him in for comedic purposes alone but he even fails at that.

Given that the film has disappointed me on two levels already I was hoping that there might be something technically special about the film that I could praise so that this doesn't seem like a long rant about the problems I had with the film. It does fair a bit better on a technical level as the film uses a highly stylized look. However the look used by cinematographer Amir Mokri tends to be dark and grim and not visually pleasing. Also the pacing and editing techniques employed seem to be take the viewer out of the story at the wrong times causing the middle section of the film to come to a complete stand still. Director Gary Fleder had this same problem with "Imposter" a totally forgettable turkey of a film which was shot before "Don't Say A Word" and sat on the studio shelves for a year.  It seems Fleder has learned a bit since then but his editing choices still add up to cause pacing issues with his films.

When it all comes down to "Don't Say a Word" just didn't strike a chord with this reviewer. It's a average thriller with average writing, directing and a terrific list of actors whose talents are all but entirely wasted. Theres just not enough  to the film and what there is plays like a highlight reel of better films that have come before. "Don't Say a Word" has a few bright moments but those are sandwiched in along with numerous thriller genre cliches. A disappointing film that has too many strikes against to earn even a moderate recommendation.

Elizabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy)
Video
20th Century Fox brings home "Don't Say A Word" with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that accurately captures the look and feel of the theatrical release.  As this is a day and date release with the VHS tape you can expect the highest quality Fox transfer possible and they don't disappoint here. The film does have a highly stylized look to it and as such the color palette is very subdued and tends to use a lot of dark greens and blue type hues. In addition to the minimalistic color scheme a lot of the action takes place in dimly lit locations. Now this could cause problems with some studios as it's been proven that darker material is harder to compress but Fox manages to do an excellent job here. Sharpness and detail are uniform during both these dark scenes and the few that take place in locations with ample lighting. The transfer is relatively problem free although there is some minor edge enhancement that does pop up from time to time to remind you that this isn't a perfect transfer. Other then that the print is clean and free of nicks, scratches, tears and all the other possible flaws.  Shimmering and pixelation are also absent which is a nice thing because there were a lot of brick buildings and surfaces which are usually problematic. Although this isn't a reference quality transfer it's yet another excellent presentation from Fox.

Audio
Fox is one studio that rarely disappoints and like most of their more high profile titles this disc features both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio tracks. Having seen the film back during it's theatrical run I'd like to think I had some memory of the film's audio experience but this appears to be one of the rare times that my memory has faded. The front sound stage is used heavily for split surround effects and the moody yet effective Mark Isham score. Moving our way back their is a nice amount of ambience from the rears during the exterior scenes and even a fair bit of surround imaging during the interiors. I was caught off guard a couple of times when the sound of a phone ringing would suddenly occur behind me. The sound effects mixing was very realistically done and at times I was looking to see if things were falling over in my own home. The explosion early in the film is mixed well and features some pretty impressive deep bass. One scene that was particular impressed involved a speed boat that seemed to speed from the front to the back of the sound stage. Dialogue is clear and evenly heard through the film and although some of Famke Jansen's screaming did seem a bit on the harsh side it never ventured near complete unbearable. I guess the sound experience shouldn't come as a surprise as the mix was done by Wylie Statemen whose recent credits include "The Perfect Storm" and "Any Given Sunday" both of  which provided amazing audio though the latter features one of the best audio mixes in recent memory. That's one disc that sure to upset your neighbors. Though this disc won't quite get you evicted it's still quite a strong and powerful oral experience. As for the DTS vs DD comparisons both are quite even in terms of overall quality though when this is the case I still tend to choose DTS for subsequent viewings.

Extras
Originally rumored to be a 2 disc special edition 20th Century Fox surprised me when I found that it was only the one disc. However there is no need for worry as all of the initially announced bonus materials have been included on the single disc.  As this is another jammed pack special edition from 20th Century Fox I'll skip the small talk and get right into the features on the disc.

Kicking off the disc we have an audio commentary with "Don't Say a Word" director Gary Fleder. This is Fleder's third picture and first audio commentary track and he seems to be pretty well prepared. Now I'm not really a big fan of the man's work as I felt this film had a number of problems that it needed to overcome before I'd give it a recommendation and I didn't like anything about his follow up feature "Imposter" (which was shot before this film). I did however moderately like "Kiss the Girls" not so much for his direction but more because of Ashley Judd. So needless to say I wasn't really looking forward to listening to him chat for nearly two hours about his film. I did give him a shot and I managed to get through most of the track. Fleder has some interesting things to say about the film from both the technical and creative standpoints and does fill the track up to the brim but he was just unable to grab me.  I don't know if it was because his presence is everywhere on the disc and I was just tired of him or if it's because I don't particularly care for his films. It should be noted that although I'm commenting on the commentary first, it was the last thing I viewed on the disc.   Either way, he didn't have me completed bored but I was unable to make it through the entire commentary.

In addition to the director's commentary with Gary Fleder, this disc contains scene specific audio commentary with Michael Douglas, Famke Jannseen, Brittany Murphy, Oliver Platt and Sean Bean. Each of the participants comment on one or two scenes that their character appeared in. Micheal Douglas has some interesting thoughts on his character but does tend to slip into praise mode for director Fleder. Famke Jansen talks about her difficult role as the house bound Aggie and Sean Bean talks a lot about being the film's villain. The highlight of these selections is Brittany Murphy who is a very talented actress. Murphy shows the extreme differences between her real life persona and her character as in the real world she's really perky and bubbly. She offers insight into her motivation and preparation for taking a role and acting in a given scene. It's hard to imagine how such a positive young girl could turn herself into such a dark and disturbing character but she does it with ease. All of the participants comments are easily accessible via the special features menu taking the guess work of locating their comments throughout the film.

Moving on we have a Menu option labelled "Cinema Master Class" that when selected brings the viewer to a sub-menu which contains the majority of the film's bonus material.

The first category  of the "Cinema Master Class" menu is the pre-production related features which consists of "Producing with the Kopelsons", "Brittany Murphy's Screen Test",  and story board to scene comparisons for two of the film's most action packed sequences.

"Producing with the Kopelsons" is a sit down discussion with Arnold and Anne Kopelson the two lead producers on "Don't Say a Word". Looking down their respective filmographies they are responsible for such hit films as "Seven", "Outbreak", "The Fugitive" as well as the recent bomb "Joe Somebody". They seem to have a uncanny knack for the producer role with far more hits then misses. In the interview on this disc they talk about the different types of producers in Hollywood and how they approach their job. Although this is very interesting and informative for people interested in how a film is created they really don't offer much specific information surrounding the feature film.

Screen tests are a fairly common bonus feature on DVDs but rarely are they as good as Brittany Murphy's screen test for the character of Elizabeth Burrows. This 6 minute long screen test is taken from one of the emotional scenes that take place in the mental hospital and for the duration the camera does not leave Brittany. She gives a gut wrenching performance and clearly demonstrates she has what it takes to play this role.

Also included under the pre-production section of the "Cinema Master Class" are two story board to screen comparisons running for a little under 10 minutes when combined. The scenes included are the "Heist" and "Subway".

The second sub-section of the "Cinema Master Class" focuses on the production of the film and contains "You Are There",  A set tour with the production designer as well as screening room dailies for one major scene.

"You Are There" brings the viewer to the set for three of the film's key sequences. These production featurette's focus on the Hospital,  the Subway and the Dock scenes respectively.  Each feaurette is narrated by the director Gary Fleder who appears in a little picture in picture window in the lower left hand corner. These featurettes take the viewer down to the set as if they were a crew member. The narration ranges from scene to scene but in general details how each shot was made to work in the final cut of the film and the general approach taken by Fleder.

The Set Tour with Production Designer Nelson Coates is a 5 minute tour covering the primary sets used in "Don't Say a Word" Coates discusses in detail the inspiration for his design work and how he constructed the entire apartment on a sound stage in Toronto, Canada after visiting the real thing in New York. He talks about the color scheme choices and the unique details of the residence. He also takes us to "Hart's Island" a set which was modelled after the real graveyard island in the New York/Long Island area. An interesting featurette that I felt could have been just a bit longer as Coates is full of all sorts of interesting production tidbits.

Rounding out the "Production" section we have the dailies for a short scene. Selectable from a menu we have 9 different takes of the same scene that when put together make up a completed sequence. The presentation of these scenes leaves a little bit to be desired as you can't switch from take to take using the angle button on the remote. You must watch the short clips in their entirety before being able to select a new take to view. This would have been a perfect application for the angle button but sadly they are presented in a more straight forward and non interactive fashion.

The third and final subject matter for this "class" is post production and again the features included cover a range of subjects from scoring the film to creating an animatic to see how an effect will look in the final film.

Starting of we have "A Conversation with Director Gary Fleder" whose presence has been felt throughout the majority of the supplemental material on the disc. In this interview running a few seconds shy of 7 minutes he discusses his approach to directing and how it's changed over the course of his career. He talks about the talented actors assembled for the film by the casting director  and the little nuances they brought to the film.

"Thriller Themes" begins with Gary Fleder talking about Mark Isham's moody score and ends with an extended musical cue presented as 3 subsections on the screen (scoring stage, Storyboards and final cut). This is another instance where it would have been nice to select the angles using the multiple angle feature of DVD but alas that is not the case here.

Also included under this section is an animatic of the "Trench Sequence" along with Fleder's comments regarding the technology involved.

Moving onwards to features not included in the class we have three deleted scenes which are all basic extensions of scenes already in the film. In a rarity (for this disc) there is explanation given for their exclusion from the final cut. Since director Gary Fleder contributed so much to the rest of the disc I was half expecting to have him pop up here and either give a running commentary or an intro to the deleted scenes. However that's not the case.

Also included we have a pretty standard "Making of" featurette that's more a promotional vehicle then something of actual substance. As well as cast and crew biographies for the principals and a video trailer for Michael Douglas "Wall Street". For whatever reason the theatrical trailer is not included on this disc.

So the disc does contain a healthy amount of bonus features even if they do seem to be a bit Gary Fleder heavy. I would have liked to have seen more participation by actors Brittany Murphy and Michael Douglas.

Aggie Conrad (Famke Janssen) stuck in bed.

Overall
"Don't Say a Word" is a film I wanted to like but there was something about the trailer that was off putting for me. I did see the film theatrically and while I didn't dislike it as much as I do now, I couldn't get excited about it back then just like I can't now. Fox works their usual magic on the DVD with excellent audio/video quality and a number of bonus materials. If you've seen the film and liked it then picking this one up is a no brainier. Otherwise it's probably best to give this one a rental before putting down your hard earned dollars as a purchase.


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