Don't Say a Word

Directed by Gary Fleder
Starring: Michael Douglas, Brittany Murphy, Sean Bean, Jennifer Esposito, Famke Janssen, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Oliver Platt.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, including some gruesome images, and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
October 16, 2001

What do I think of Don't Say a Word? I'll never te-ell...

I kid. At this point, the film's tagline/catch phrase is now fodder for late-night TV monologues, and has no place in a serious review. But who said this was a serious review? I don't believe the makers of Don't Say a Word wanted us to take the film entirely seriously; there's too much of an underlying silliness to the whole thing. Or maybe it just seemed that way to me, because the literal context of the film is a kidnap thriller, starring Michael Douglas.

He plays Dr. Nathan Conrad, a psychiatrist specializing in troubled teenagers. His colleague, Dr. Sachs (Oliver Platt), asks him for help with a patient the night before Thanksgiving. 18-year-old Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy) has been in and out of psychiatric institutions since she saw her father pushed onto a subway track and killed ten years ago. Dr. Conrad doesn't get very far with the girl that night, and finally goes home to his wife (Famke Janssen) and his daughter (Skye McCole Bartusiak).

The next morning, he finds his door's chain cut and his daughter missing. He then receives a call from the kidnapper (Sean Bean), who demands that Dr. Conrad return to the hospital and extract a six-digit number from Elisabeth's confused mind by 5:00pm, or his daughter will be killed.

More details are revealed through the course of the film, relating the kidnapper (who tried to steal a red diamond ten years ago) with Elisabeth's father (who stole the diamond from the kidnapper after helping him steal it) and a detective (Jennifer Esposito) that is just now putting the whole case together.

The mystery within the film's plot is easy to figure out, it's just the film's intent that I don't understand. Is it really trying to be a serious thriller? I'd have to say that it failed at that for the most part. It's a little too predictable, and the urgency never seems as palpable as it should. After all, it is established that Dr. Conrad has a nearly impossible task to perform in a ridiculously short amount of time. Perhaps the key word here is "ridiculously". It applies to a good deal of the film, from the motivations of the bad guys to the performance of Murphy, which goes over the top quite often. If you've seen the ubiquitous ads, you know what I mean.

This is why I'm unsure of the film. It's rather obvious that "I'll never te-ell" is a pretty cheesy moment in the film, yet it is used as the tagline on all the posters. Is this a nod to the film's possible ulterior motive, or just a ploy to connect the poster with the ads? I'm afraid the latter is more likely, which would force me to denounce the film.

Anyway, my feelings about it are ambivalent. I enjoyed it, but not that much. I thought it was funny, but not for the right reasons, and the rest of the time it was too serious. I'd recommend that you rent it to see and decide for yourself; don't bother wasting a movie ticket for the experience.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Don't Say a Word (2001)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Don't Say a Word (2001) -- VHS
Don't Say a Word (2001) -- DVD
Don't Say a Word, a novel by Andrew Klavan -- Paperback
Don't Say a Word: Score -- Compact Disc Home
Review Archive
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings

Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan