Returning a $100 million dollar box office on a $50 million budget, Don’t Say a Word sat at the top of the box office in this week, twenty years ago. Today, this action thriller sits with a 24% on the Tomatometer and a 49% audience score – not the best, but there are worse. The story follows a criminal named Patrick Koster (Sean Bean) who kidnaps the young daughter of acclaimed psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas). Patrick needs Nathan to coax a patient suffering from the effects of witnessing her father’s murder, Elisabeth (Brittany Murphy), to reveal a secret combination of numbers that he believes is the code standing between himself and a precious jewel.
Okay, I’ll admit that the premise seemed interesting. I’m not a huge action movie fan, but the description did pique my curiosity. The actual movie, on the other hand, left much to be desired. In my humble opinion, this movie could go either way. This might be a total banger for a die-hard (no pun intended) action movie fan, or maybe it’s just a flop that didn’t survive the wear and tear that two decades threw at it (I’m leaning towards the second option). But before we make any snap judgments, let’s consider a few of my personal pros and cons of Don’t Say a Word.
Pro: The beginning of the movie was incredibly action-packed and maintained that level of intensity for a solid ten minutes. We were introduced to the film with a bank robbery filled with explosions and get-away cars! That’s action, baby! Had that scene entended the two hours of the film, it would be *chef’s kiss.* However, that’s not really what happened. Instead, we were met with lots of frustrated flip phone conversations and some really uncomfortable character breakdowns.
Pro: The acting was overall pretty good. I noted in the first few scenes that Michael Douglas gave off great “dad vibes” and I stand by it. I think all of the actors played their roles well and it was easy to see and believe the emotions they were feeling. None of their performances were award-winning, but they also didn’t make me cringe to the point of having to turn the movie off. That counts as a win in my book.
Con: There were too many moments where I asked myself, “Wait, haven’t I seen this before?” This is your run-of-the-mill action movie. This film does not offer anything special in its plot, character, or writing. I promise you that you will not miss out on anything if you decide to skip this film.
(Major) Con: This movie uses trauma, or what they titled “PTSD” as a plot device, which made the film incredibly hard to watch. I understand this movie was from a different time, but watching in 2021, it was really offputting how inaccurate and almost cartoonish their depiction of the character’s mental state was. Unfortunately, this was a huge storyline of the film with a huge chunk of conflict revolving around it.
Look, I don’t think this movie needs to be remade. It doesn’t really offer anything that the action genre isn’t bubbling over with. That being said, I’d love to entertain the idea of recasting it. Not to flex my zoomer status, but I did not recognize a single actor in this movie. I mean, it’s embarrassing to admit, but I thought that Michael Douglas was the same guy who played Gordon Bombay in The Mighty Ducks trilogy for like half the film until I finally bit the bullet and looked it up (spoiler alert: they are not the same people). Hey, maybe if the film had actors that were more tailored to me I would’ve enjoyed it more. That being said, here’s who I would recast in the main three roles.
Starting off, I would recast Oscar Isaac in Michael Douglas’s role of Dr. Nathan Conrad. I have very little reasoning behind this decision besides the fact that I recently rewatched Ex Machina (2014) and I think he’s a cutie.
Now, Sean Bean’s jewel thief character, Patrick, is a little trickier. I mean, after all the grueling work I put into who I would cast for the last role, I understand that this role needs to be on par with the last. What actor would be able to dress in all black and make threatening calls on a flip phone the way Sean Bean did? I think the answer is pretty clear. Chris Hemsworth’s our guy! I mean, we’ve seen the man in the action protagonist roles like Red Dawn (2012) and those smaller roles in the Marvel movies, now is his time to shine as the villain! It’s perfect!
Okay, I will only recast Elisabeth on the condition this new version of her character is not just a caricature of trauma for the purpose of plot progression. Under that condition, I think that Dafne Keen of Logan (2017) and His Dark Materials (2019-) would be a suitable fit. I specifically chose a younger actor because the film tried to really draw on the father/daughter dynamic between Dr. Nathan Conrad and Elisabeth which I feel would be more believable if Elisabeth had been younger and mirrored his own daughter more.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this movie in 2021. Even if you can somehow get past the inappropriate depiction of PTSD, the movie itself is nothing special. I’ll admit that I don’t have a ton of experience with action films, but even with my limited background, I could still name a dozen movies with basically the same plot. I mean, if you’re desperate for a movie with a stolen daughter, a father with a hero complex, and maybe an intense action scene or two, just watch Taken (2008) again.