Don't Say a Word

Directed by Gary Fleder. USA. 2001.

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I have basic complaints about the concept of turning books into films. The people cast are generally not in line with the pictures you keep in your head from the novel (with the glaring exceptions of the spot-on casting work done for The Client - Tommy Lee Jones as Roy Foltrigg, and High Fidelity - John Cusack as Rob Gordon).

Hollywood seems to enjoy updating things that absolutely do not need updating. A perfect example of this would be the cinematic mistake of Mary Shellyís Frankenstein. Iíve read this book several times, and nowhere in its pages do I recall Frankensteinís bride running through the mansion, setting off small explosions at each doorway she passed. Nor do I recall Frankensteinís monster being described as using extensive quantities of pomade. The unforgivable arrogance of Hollywood displays itself through their complete inability to stick to an authorís previously published work. Thomas Harrisí Red Dragon, (Manhunter) Jeffrey Deaverís The Bone Collector, even William Diehlís Primal Fear failed to successfully transfer the ideas of the author to the screen. Donít Say a Word falls into each of these traps, as every audience member who has read the book will find it unfaithful, those who havenít will find excellent actors caught in poorly adapted characters.

Donít Say a Word is the story of the kidnapping of psychiatrist Ďs Dr. Nathan Conradís daughter. In order to get her back alive, he must help a thief get his prize by extracting a 6-digit number from a mentally disturbed young woman.

Don't Say a Word. All Rights Reserved.Michael Douglas (Fatal Attraction, Perfect Murder) stars as the desperate doctor, and though his performance is excellent, he is hampered by the complete lack of character development for Nathan Conrad, and the total lack of explanation for his actions. For example when he canít find his daughter for a period of 120 seconds, his first instinct is that sheís been kidnapped. Why? When I canít find my daughter for two minutes, my immediate assumption is that she has located a new and improved hiding spot, not that sheís been snatched by a gang of international thieves. Douglas is not performing at a level that even comes close to his potential here, as the script doesnít give him the chance to show the rage that would have come flowing forth from his childís abduction, or the fear that any normal human being would have experienced when faced with a gun. Douglas is far and away better than this role would have you believe. 

Don't Say a Word. All Rights Reserved.It boggles my brain to try to grasp how such truly poor directors keep getting the best actors to perform in their films, and then take those excellent performers and run them into the ground at a million miles an hour. Kevin Reynolds did it to Jim Caviezel in The Count of Monte Cristo. Now the torch has been passed to director Gary Fleder (Imposter, Things to do in Denver When Youíre Dead). How even a director with rudimentary skill can take an incredible actor like Sean Bean (Goldeneye, Patriot Games) and extract an average performance is beyond me. Watching Bean I had the feeling that he had agreed to do this without actually reading the script, and, once embroiled in it, realized just how bad it actually was and panicked. He appears to be attempting to carry Donít Say a Word completely on his talent alone, and as it is impossible to make any sort of forward motion with a 600-pound gorilla on your back, no matter how gifted you may be, all of Beanís dramatic aptitude canít save this sinking ship.

Scriptwriters need to seriously ponder a common mistake made by those taking favoured books to screen; the fatal error of assuming that everyone in the theatre has already read the book. In the case of Donít Say a Word those that have read the book will be disappointed by the poor adaptation, those that havenít will be displeased with the inadequacy of the characters. Donít Say a Word is a big disappointment considering the calibre of the talent involved. This should have been a thriller on par with The Gift, but instead is totally banal. What a let down.

Jen Johnston
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