Most people will probably dismiss “Don”t Say a Word” as a rip-off of Ron Howard”s thriller “Ransom” (1996) starring Mel Gibson. Are there similarities between the two movies? Yes. They both involve the issue of kidnapping children and demanding something for their return. In the case of “Ransom,” money was demanded, but, in “Don”t Say a Word,” the demand is a bit more complicated than just money it involves psychiatric help to a disturbed patient in a mental hospital. That”s a bit more intriguing than just money in many ways.
“Don”t Say a Word” starts out with a jewel heist gone bad. Five men break into a bank in search of a red jewel that is supposedly worth over $10 million. As the men break up into two groups during their escape, the larger group, consisting of three men, realize that the jewel that they have just stolen has been stolen from them. They are more than a little upset.
Ten years later, we see Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) a psychiatrist with the perfect life. He has got a great practice right in the heart of New York City. He has a beautiful condo where his wife, laid up due to a broken leg, and his 8-year-old girl wait for him to come home every night. The night before Thanksgiving, Nathan is held up from coming home because an old colleague of his wants him to take a look at a new patient (Brittany Murphy), a catatonic that has been buffeted in and out of mental hospitals over the last 10 years after she watched her dad get hit by a subway train when she was 10 years old. This is the beginning of the end for poor Nathan.
On Thanksgiving morning Nathan wakes up to find his daughter missing and a man on the other end of his phone line insisting that he won”t get his daughter back unless he can get the catatonic girl to release a 6-digit number she”s got locked away in her head somewhere. Nathan has until five o”clock that day.
“Don”t Say a Word” actually involves a few storylines within the main story. Each of the stories is told separately, but they are intricately woven together. Eventually, they all come together. At times, there are moments of confusion where it almost feels as if there were more to a certain sub-story that just got lost somewhere on the editing room floor, but those moments are infrequent.
“Don”t Say a Word” is a suspense-thriller. The best thing about this movie is its ability to build and maintain tension. The very first scene is a perfect example of this. It involves the group of thieves sitting in a van waiting for the right moment to make their movie. There isn”t a lot going on, but all the same, the audience still has this feeling of mounting tension. There is a feeling that something really big is about to blow, but you”re just not sure what or when.
The worst thing about “Don”t Say a Word” is the occasional black-and-white nature of both the characters and the plot. Here are the bad guys, horrid to the core. By contrast, the hero is left alone to save the day, made even more apparent since his wife is stuck at home in bed due to her broken leg.
Even many of the settings in “Don”t Say a Word” are magnified and blown out of proportion to create a more exciting backdrop. For example, the psych ward, as is usually the case, is the most awful, disturbing place. It really makes one wonder why psychology is so popular a field these days if places like this are portrayed as the spot where one might end up. Is it really necessary to make the mentally ill appear more like animals than humans? The answer is probably not. It does, however, add a sense of creepiness to the whole aura of the movie. This is exactly why it was done that way.