Gary Fleder’s Don’t Say A Word is one of those slick Michael Douglas thrillers with a juicy cast, luxurious runtime and that classic ‘Hollywood thriller’ feel. It’s one of those scripts written with people like him or Harrison Ford in mind, the middle aged high profile professional whose family is menaced or kidnapped, forcing this straight laced Everyman to take action. This one is particularly strong and terrifically entertaining thanks mainly to the late Brittany Murphy in my favourite of her onscreen roles as a disturbed teenage girl whose broken, traumatized mind hold the secret to the film’s central mystery. When she was a young girl she witnessed the brutal murder of her father at the hands of a dangerous career criminal (Sean Bean) and his marauding gang of thieves. It’s now a decade or so later and he’s back to terrorize her again in hopes of unlocking a clue lodged deep in her head, information she’ll do anything to hide. Douglas is the hotshot psychologist who finds himself and his family targeted by Bean & Co., extorted into treating her and gaining the information so badly desired by all. Douglas and Murphy have terrific onscreen chemistry and she even upstages him in many scenes with her trademark raw, potent and very candid style of acting that seems almost out of place in such a glossy high profile thriller but really gives the thing its most valuable spark of life. Bean’s villain is admittedly kinda one dimensional in terms of script but he can take any character and give it something memorable with his talents, he’s utterly ruthless and despicable here, making the peril feel real and relentlessly threatening. The supporting cast is stacked to the nines with work from Famke Janssen as Douglas’s terrorized wife, the late Sky McCole Bartusiak as his cunning daughter, Oliver Platt as a shady colleague clearly hiding something, Jennifer Esposito as a shrewd homicide detective on everyone’s case, with additional support from Shawn Doyle, Guy Torry, Lance Reddick, David Warshofsky, Paul Schulze, Aiden Devine and a cameo from Victor Argo as a wily coroner. Fleder is an accomplished director (Runaway Jury, Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, Kiss The Girls) and knows his way around a flashy big budget thriller without losing a palpable sense of character and setting. This is one of my favourite Michael Douglas thrillers, mainly because of Brittany Murphy’s super affecting, down to earth work, Bean’s cold, psychopathic baddie, the blue and grey hued NYC cinematography full of hustle, bustle and urgent incident and the overall orchestration which has a classic ensemble thriller mentality that you just don’t get from Hollywood anymore. Great film.
Boogeyman probably wouldn’t scare me too much these days but to sheltered thirteen year old Nate in iMax back then this was fucking traumatizing. I haven’t seen it since and I might keep it that way because the raw nostalgia still kicks in whenever I see the poster in a streaming queue or the DVD in stores and I feel like if I revisited now, that magic would dissipate quickly.
So obviously the Boogeyman is real here and has chosen to terrorize a family seemingly at random, scarring a young boy for life by snatching his father away in the middle of the night in a chilling prologue. Flash forward years later and the boy grows up into a man played by onetime heartthrob Barry Watson, who I only remember from this and Ocean’s Eleven where he’s playing poker with Topher Grace and Brad Pitt. He decides to visit the old town and dilapidated house he grew up in to confront his fears and prove that it was all in his head, but of course it wasn’t and the boogeyman comes roaring back into his life to create all kinds of fresh hell.
I enjoyed the lack of backstory and explanation for this thing… he’s not some vengeful ghost with an origin montage in the third act, they just never even bother to say anything more than he’s simply a boogeyman thing, and there’s both power and potency in that. There are numerous effective jump scares from what I remember and some welcome turns from genre regulars Lucy Lawless, Emily Deschanel and Skye McCole Bartusiak. Like I said it’s been so long since I saw this, I only saw it once but let me tell you at that age it fucked me right up. Such would most likely not be the case now but oh well. I’ll hold onto the memory I have of seeing it theatrically.
So, the sequel to Stephen King’s Firestarter is an interesting one.. more of a miniseries than an actual film and runs well up almost to three hours, is full of horrendous pacing issues and numbing filler and yet… I still kinda dig it. Maybe it’s the cast, maybe it’s the languid runtime that fills up an entire rainy afternoon or who knows, but I own this on its own DVD and in the two pack with the first one and I pop it in at least once a year.
What’s it all about? Well the clairvoyant Charlie who was first played by Drew Barrymore is now grown up and embodied by Marguerite Moreau, who has some great charisma and pulls it off quite well. When she was a kid her and her dad were on the run from all kinds of nasty characters, most of whom fell victim to her incredible but severely destructive elemental gifts. One who did not however is John Rainbird, the vaguely occult weirdo played by George C. Scott in the first and now given the diabolical essence of Malcolm McDowell this time round. He wanted her powers for himself and if that didn’t work he was prepared to kill her, an agenda that kind of went up in flames (weyy). Now he’s back with gnarly burn scars and has spent the decade tracking down other kids with similar powers as Charlie and training them to be his evil little work force, eventually hoping to track her down and… who knows, the guy is beyond certifiable. Charlie has kept off the grid and struggled with these demons from her past as well as an understandable confusion in her own self identity. She finds companionship in a young journalist (Danny Nucci) who tries to help her and another psychic from their collective past played by Dennis Hopper in a warm, compassionate extended cameo.
So, what works? Well, McDowell as Rainbird is the film’s strongest point. Stephen King wrote this guy as a Native American and Hollywood just had to do their thing in casting a white dude so there’s this weird stoicism that didn’t come across well in George’s work. Malcolm reinvents the dude and fares far better as a manipulative, Machiavellian sorcerer hell bent on chaos and he eats up the role tremendously. We see flashbacks to young Charlie again and this time instead of Barrymore it’s Skye McCole Bartusiak, the excellent child actress who passed away sadly and too soon a few years back. Hopper is always terrific even in an easygoing paycheque role. I appreciated the genuine interest in the filmmakers part on building this world further and exploring new ideas. There’s a super cool, explosive showdown between Charlie and Rainbird that takes place in an all but deserted western style town. Moreau makes the most of the role and carries it pretty effectively. So what doesn’t work? The thing is two fucking hours and forty five minutes long, which is just a big no no. This could have easily been a sleek ninety minute flick and been all the more effective by pulling up the narrative slack and cutting all kinds of droning filler. It’s clearly lower budget, made for TV and we don’t get that beautiful Tangerine Dream score as we did before. It ain’t a great film but for what it is, it’s pretty fun.
The sad thing about HBO original films is that they air pretty quick and without notice, then are scarcely heard from again, despite having really good stories and production design to boast, with no theatrical crowd to ever share them with. Witness Protection is one among many of these, a brilliant, surprisingly thoughtful mobster melodrama starring Tom Sizemore in a rare and commanding lead role. He plays Boston area gangster Bobby ‘Bats’ Batton here, a wiseguy who gets a rude awakening one night when a violent attempt is made on his life by rival crime factions, striking at home while his family are there. His lifestyle has inadvertently put those he loves in danger and now there are consequences, as grimly outlined by Forest Whitaker’s sympathetic FBI agent. Bobby, his wife (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is so great, why isn’t she in stuff anymore?), son (Shawn Hatosy) and young daughter (Sky McCole Bartusiak, who famously died young a few years ago) are relocated into the witness protection program run by the Feds, given new identities, their lives uprooted and their future uncertain. Now, I searched for this film for years (it’s near impossible to find) thinking there’d be some kind of actuon intrigue angle, a few gunfights as his enemies tracked him down, but such is not the case. This is a mature film, a meditation on what it takes to change who we are when our choices endanger the lives of those we are supposed to protect. Bobby is a man of violence who grew up in a certain way, and he has transformed that into his livelihood. But it’s also a risky creed to cling to, and eventually a line is crossed, the line between balancing a chaotic life, or letting it run away from you. He’s forced to change, to show honesty and the will power to go straight, and this causes intense strain on the relationships with each of his family members, both individually and as a group. It’s equal parts fascinating, heartbreaking and hopeful to see a family go from one extreme to the other, and every facet of the situation is explored in a script that feels authentic and unforced. Sizemore and Mastrantonio deliver powerhouse work that stuns and stings, inhabiting uncomfortable moments of personal anguish with gravity to spare. This one isn’t your typical crime drama, and is all the better for it.