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PANIC
Reviewed November 8th, 2001 by David Nusair

 

Panic was initially slated for a theatrical release, but somehow Ė along the way Ė it wound up premiering on a pay channel. Roger Ebert was particularly vocal about this, going so far as to mention the flick no less than three separate times on his show. Understandably, with this sort of hype, my expectations were high. And while Panic does have a lot going for it Ė most notably the performances and the subtle direction Ė the film never really takes off.

William H. Macy stars as Alex, a second generation hitman thatís finding it increasingly difficult to perform his job. At the advice of his doctor, he starts seeing a shrink (surprisingly well-played by John Ritter) and while waiting for his first appointment, he meets a beautiful and flighty young woman named Sarah (Neve Campbell). He finds himself immediately taken with her, but doesnít initially pursue anything since heís married. Meanwhile, his father (Donald Sutherland), a commanding and intimidating man that Alex has never been able to stand up to, has just handed him his latest target Ė a man known he knows personally.

Panic starts out great, with an expectedly superb performance by Macy and a directorial flourish thatís designed to draw the viewer in, rather than alienate them (Michael Bay, Iím looking in your direction). This is a movie that just looks great, from the spare waiting room that Macy and Campbell initially meet in, to the dank and smoky restaurants frequented by Macy and his father.

But the whole thing just goes awry, though, around the halfway mark. Henry Bromell, the writer (and director), provides a storyline thatís about as spare as they come, which isnít really a good thing. While this character study (and thatís what this is, make no mistake about it) is initially fascinating, thereís only so much you can say without actually doing anything. A lot of Panic features Macy contemplating his career choice in various settings and complaining to various people, and while all the actors are top-notch and the dialogue is refreshingly realistic, it eventually becomes tiresome. A subplot probably would have helped. It is interesting, though, that Macyís profession is almost incidental to the plot. This is a movie more about his personal breakdown rather than the fact that he kills people for a living.

Admittedly, it is refreshing to watch a movie that doesnít rely on over-the-top shenanigans to tell its story Ė but this is taking it too far on the other side of that coin. Regardless, Panic is worth checking out if only for the stellar performances all around and for a first look at a director who will certainly progress to better things.

Audio: Panic is presented with a Dolby surround 2.0 soundtrack and itís a little surprising that a 5.1 track wasnít included. But for what itís worth, the 2.0 soundtrack is quite effective. Obviously, this isnít a movie that was ever intended to shake your living room, but it gets the job done. The plentiful dialogue is always crisp and clear, while music and other background sounds never become too intrusive.

Video: Though it went straight-to-cable, Panic was originally intended to be a theatrical movie and as such, is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (and anamorphically enhanced). This is a flick with a lot of sharp edges and spare compositions, and this transfer handles them all beautifully. From the bright outdoor scenes, to the darker indoor sequences Ė this is a transfer thatís up to the challenge of a variety of settings. And DVD-related artifacts are nil.

Extras: The most prominent extra here is a commentary track with director Bromell. Bromell proves to be an affable sort, telling all kinds of interesting stories about the making of the movie. This is a very informative track, and Bromell makes a fine guide. Next up are five deleted scenes. These are all incredibly useless, and itís easy to see why they were cut. Theyíre presented widescreen (though not anamorphically enhanced) and only two of the five features Macy. The other three deal with Campbellís two relationships in the film, one with a man and one with a woman. Finally, thereís a widescreen trailer and some cast/crew bios.

Conclusion: Check out Panic just for Macyís amazing performance Ė just donít expect a thriller (as depicted in the trailer).

 

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