If you're a fan of William Macy, this is a must-see film. I think it is one of his finest roles, showcasing his ability to convey emotional complexity without being overly dramatic or over the top. In this film, he plays a hitman who is becoming increasingly tormented by being part of the family business, a business which just happens to be murder for hire, disposing of unwanted people for a hefty fee. The business is headed by Alex's father, played to psychotic perfection by Donald Sutherland, a man who is relentless in his determination to make Alex do his will. Tormented by the idea that his young son might follow his own path, Alex decides to see a psychiatrist (John Ritter). Neve Campbell, cast against type (for those of us who remember her in Scream) does a superb job playing a troubled young woman who encounters Alex in the psychiatrist's waiting room, eventually entering into an affair with him. I won't say more about the major events in this film but hope this brief intro intrigues you enough to want to see it. Although I plan to watch this one again and again, I do have to say this might not be for you if you want a movie full of non-stop action, suspense and violence. The drama here is mostly psychological, intense enough in its own way, but far different from that of an action film.
on January 25, 2002
The "banality of evil" has long been a source of fascination for those artists exploring the dark side of human nature. Gloomy houses filled with vengeful spirits or twitching psychos hold less fear for the common man than the sudden discovery that the "people next door," the PTA member down the street, or the social director for the local church youth group are the true villains who surround us unnoticed, people whose very "normalcy" serves to mask the evil within. For only when the mask is finally ripped off and we at last get to see what we have been living next to all along do we come to realize how very tenuous is our security and safety in this world. What could be scarier than that?
In this category of works, "Panic" emerges as a genuinely chilling, emotionally unsettling psychological thriller, short on gratuitous violence and long on characterization and mood. Writer/director Henry Bromell has fashioned a dark, disturbing tale of a man named Alex (William H. Macy) who seeks the professional help of a therapist played by John Ritter. Alex's problem is a decidedly unique one: it seems that, since he's been a teen, he has served as hit man for his father (Donald Sutherland) whose mysterious, shady "business" apparently calls for the elimination of certain parties at the request of unknown "clients." Alex is a seemingly good man, devoted to his wife and son, who has somehow found a way to distance himself emotionally and morally from the heinous crimes he commits. Yet, obviously, Alex has arrived at a point of moral reckoning - for how else to explain his sudden need to unburden himself to this total stranger? Macy gives a brilliant performance as Alex, showing, in his totally understated reactions to the people and events around him, what it is like to be buttoned up so tight that even with all the mayhem and filial abuse he's experienced in his life he is able to truthfully say "I don't know if I've ever been angry" - even at his father who got him into this life in the first place.
What makes "Panic" so unsettling is that it violates all our comforting notions about the ties that bind father to son and family members to each other. Rather than setting a fine moral example for their child, both of Alex's parents, Michael (Donald Sutherland) and Deidre (Barbara Bain), have actually groomed him to become a cold-blooded killer. Yet, life seems to go on in surface ease within the confines of not only that family but Alex's own family as well. Alex keeps the truth hidden from both his wife, Martha (Tracy Ullman) and his 6-year old son, Sammy (David Dorfman), allowing them to function almost as any other normal suburban family.
Yet, Alex has other, perhaps more mundane problems as well. He meets a somewhat disturbed 23-year old fellow patient named Sarah (Neve Campbell) to whom he feels an immediate attraction. Tentatively, these two lost souls grope towards each other, both of them hoping to find in the other that which is lacking in themselves. But in many ways, Alex is actually a man of strong moral character in certain aspects of his life and he agonizes over taking the initial step towards consummating their relationship, knowing it will harm the wife he loves but no longer feels attracted to. Bromell's sophisticated screenplay refuses to spell out every psychological detail for the audience, allowing us to make our own connections, draw our own conclusions and reach our own moral judgments. As director as well, Bromell establishes and maintains a mood of almost heartbreaking melancholy and sadness. Characters rarely speak above a hush; the camera glides slowly along taking in the scene at a leisurely, unhurried pace; and the haunting musical score heightens the strange unreality of the world which these people have come to inhabit, a world that seems to call into question everything we take for granted in the area of morality, ethics and basic common decency.
The performances from every member of the cast (right on down to little David Dorfman) are letter perfect. Each of these fine actors knows exactly the right note to hit in every scene, never cutting against the grain of understated seriousness that Bromell has established.
"Panic" is a small, underrated gem that lingers long in one's memory.
on February 26, 2002
The effects of job related stress and the pressures born of a moral dilemma that pits conscience against the obligations of a family business (albeit a unique one) all brought to a head by-- or perhaps the catalyst of-- a midlife crisis, are examined in the dark and absorbing drama, "Panic," written and directed by Henry Bromell, and starring William H. Macy and Donald Sutherland. It's a telling look at how indecision and denial can bring about the internal strife and misery that ultimately leads to apathy and that moment of truth when the conflict must, of necessity, at last be resolved.
Alex (Macy) is tired; he has a loving wife, Martha (Tracey Ullman), a precocious six-year-old son, Sammy (David Dorfman), a mail order business he runs out of the house, as well as his main source of income, the "family" business he shares with his father, Michael (Sutherland), and his mother, Deidre (Barbara Bain). But he's empty; years of plying this particular trade have left him numb and detached, putting him in a mental state that has driven him to see a psychologist, Dr. Josh Parks (John Ritter). And to make matters worse (or maybe better, depending upon perspective), in Dr. Parks' waiting room he meets a young woman, Sarah Cassidy (Neve Campbell), whose presence alone makes him feel alive for the first time since he can remember. She quickly becomes another brick in the wall of the moral conflict his job has visited upon him, as in the days after their meeting he simply cannot stop thinking about her. His whole life, it seems, has become a "situation"-- one from which he is seemingly unable to successfully extirpate himself without hurting the ones he loves. He can deny his age and the fact that he has, indeed, slipped into a genuine midlife crisis, but he is about to discover that the problems he is facing are simply not going to go away on their own. He's at a crossroads, and he's going to have to decide which way to go. And he's going to have to do it very soon.
From a concept that is intrinsically interesting, Bromell has fashioned an engrossing character study that is insightful and incisive, and he presents it is a way that allows for moments of reflection that enable the audience to empathize and understand what Alex is going through. He makes it very clear that there are no simple answers, that in real life there is no easy way out. His characters are well defined and very real people who represent the diversity found in life and, moreover, within any given family unit. The film resoundingly implies that the sins of the father are irrefutably passed on to the progeny, with irrevocable consequences and effects. When you're growing up, you accept your personal environment as being that of the world at large; and often it is years into adulthood that one may begin to realize and understand that there are actually moral parameters established by every individual who walks upon the planet, and that the ones set by the father may not be conducive to the tenets of the son. And it is at that point that Alex finds himself as the story unfolds; ergo, the midlife crisis, or more specifically, the crisis of conscience from which he cannot escape. It's a powerful message, succinctly and subtly conveyed by Bromell, with the help of some outstanding performances from his actors.
For some time, William H. Macy has been one of the premiere character actors in the business, creating such diverse characters as Quiz Kid Donnie Smith in "Magnolia," The Shoveler in "Mystery Men" and Jerry Lundegaard in "Fargo." And that's just a sampling of his many achievements. At one point in this film, Sarah mentions Alex's "sad eyes," and it's a very telling comment, as therein lies the strength of Macy's performance here, his ability to convey very real emotion in an understated, believable way that expresses all of the inner turmoil he is experiencing. Consider the scene in which he is lying awake in bed, staring off into the darkness; in that one restless moment it is clear that he is grappling, not only with his immediate situation, but with everything in his life that has brought him, finally, to this point. In that scene you find the sum total of a life of guilt, confusion and uncertainty, all of which have been successfully suppressed until now; all the things that have always been at the core of Alex's life, only now gradually breaking through his defense mechanisms and finally surfacing, demanding confrontation and resolution. It's a complex character created and delivered by Macy with an absolute precision that makes Alex truly memorable. It's a character to whom anyone who has ever faced a situation of seemingly insurmountable odds will be able to relate. It's a terrific piece of work by one of the finest actors around.
Sutherland is extremely effective, as well; his Michael is despicably sinister in a way that is so real it's chilling. It's frightening, in fact, to consider that there are such people actually walking the earth. This is not some pulp fiction or James Bond type villain, but a true personification of evil, hiding behind an outward appearance that is so normal he could be the guy next door, which is what makes it all the more disconcerting. And Sutherland brings it all to life brilliantly, with a great performance.
Neve Campbell looks the part of Sarah, but her performance (as is the usual case with her) seems somewhat pretentious, although her affected demeanor here just happens to fit the character and is actually a positive aspect of the film. If only she would occasionally turn her energies inward, it would make a tremendous difference in the way she presents her characters. "Panic," however, is one of her best efforts; a powerful film that, in the end, is a journey well worth taking.
on February 11, 2004
There is a scene in the middle of the movie when Alex takes his son to see his grandfather, who has bought him a birthday present. It is the most interesting scene of the movie, and the heart from which everything else should radiate. It is the only time that Alex, his father, and his son are all onscreen at the same time and you realize that this is the conflict that is killing Alex -- he is his father's son, cynical, secretive, and ruthless, but he is also equally his son's father -- innocent, curious, and affectionate. Framed that way, both his father and his son can be seen as reflections of his own psyche. The reason why he is so blank, so tired and depressed, is that they cancel each other out. By then end of that scene I knew how the movie had to end.
The side story involving Neve Campbell isn't very interesting.
Alex (William Macy) needs to see a therapist. He is a hit man and wants to give up his job. The problem is this is a family business, although we are never told if this is part of the Mafia or a private business- the latter, I think. Anyway, in the waiting room, Alex runs into this beautiful young thing played by Never Campbell, and they start talking. What is Alex to do? His wife thinks he runs a mail order business and what he really does is kill people. Neve Campbell's character is someone who knows nothing, an innocent young thing, just what he needs.
Alex tells the therapist about his job and his therapist (John Ritter) is upfront. If Alex tells him about a forthcoming job he will have to report it, otherwise he is protected by doctor/patient confidentiality. Alex's father is played by Donald Sutherland, and a more cold blooded man would be hard to find. We see in flashbacks how Alex was trained by his old man and his first job as that of a killer.
"Panic" is one of those movies that grab you. It is well written, the actors are marvelous and just right for their parts. I had never heard of it. It is a quiet movie that seems to have come and gone. Daniel Dorfman is Alex's son, Sammy. What a fabulous young actor he is. We realize that Alex needs to save his son, so that the next generation, Sammy, that is, will not have to become a killer. A scene that is so telling is one of Gram and Grampa browbeating Sammy. We understand how Alex became the hit man, the murderer, the killer, the confused, mixed up man he is.
Alex makes a decision to quit this job. He will confront his father and put a stop to this horrible business. And why does Alex have to support his mother and father through this killing business? It is lucrative enough, so that dad tells Alex he will buy his wife a new Lexus and a vacation after the job is done. Just what kind of family is this? How did Alex such a wonderful man with a conscience, it seems, come to this family? What genetic characteristic is going to help him be finished, kaput, done, fini with the killing job? A great, great movie with a message and with a fabulous cast. Highly recommended- go find it now and rent it and watch it immediately! prisrob
on July 19, 2001
It's amazing to me that this film wasn't released as widely as, say, Memento or even Sexy Beast. It is an absolutely superb film featuring William H. Macy(Fargo) in his finest performance to date as Alex, a second-generation hitman railroaded into the business by his controlling monster of a father, played by Donald Sutherland(JFK).
The first thing that should strike any viewer about this movie is its cast. There isn't really a weak link in this movie, even though it does feature Neve Campbell. Campbell's performance, incidentally, really says something for Henry Bromell's direction: she's actually convincing, cast against type, and gives her strongest performance to date as the troubled love interest Alex meets in his psychiatrist's office.
The extreme circumstances featured in this film -- i.e. a middle-aged hitman seeing his shrink -- are really only a metaphor for the mid-life crises of half of America's middle-aged men, who went unwillingly into their father's businesses and sacrificed their own dreams. This movie is not about a love affair or a hitman; it is about how hard it is to be someone's son in America, about the expectations placed on men in our society and the outlets which we are given and which are denied us to express ourselves. Perhaps Neve Campbell herself delivers the most telling line in the film: "It's easier being a man, don't you think?" to which wife Tracy Ullman replies only with a knowing look, then turns her back.
It's a shame this film was overlooked. Henry Bromell's debut as writer-director on this film proves one of cinema's finest. William H. Macy gives the strongest performance of the year, far outdoing Russell Crowe's unintelligible stone-faced Maximus; it is also Macy's greatest role, the culmination of every unsure forty-something he's played. Do yourself a favor and see this movie. Then go home and love your son.
on May 18, 2012
I love this movie. I've seen it at least 3 times over the last few years; the only reason I haven't watched it more often is because each time is such a rich, rewarding experience that I just want to savor it and look forward to the next viewing.
William H. Macy is always great, and I think this is his best role. I can't imagine anyone else playing this part. The rest of the cast is also excellent, with Donald Sutherland, Neve Campbell, Tracey Ullman and John Ritter. The soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful, especially the 2 tracks played during the end credits.
Don't miss this one.
on August 30, 2001
This one of the few films this year that really delivered the goods. A film that redefines the modern crime drama, and gives it a sense of intelligence, wit and heart. William H Macy is just astounding as the man who has to come to grip with his past, and Neve Campbell proves with out a doubt that she is one the best actors of her generation as a woman who has to help Macy's character find his way. Gripping, haunting, and disturbing, Panic is truly one of the best films to come out in years.
on June 26, 2001
This film needs your support! It was apparently completely disregarded by critics when it played theatrically... Written and directed by Henry Bromell, writer-producer of the Baltimore-lensed HOMOCIDE TV series, PANIC is a tight little masterpiece (clocking at less than 1 hour and 25 minutes) of ensemble acting and superior screenwriting. All principal actors hit just right notes in their roles, from William H. Macy (one of the best actors currently working in the US, who single-handedly made my experience of watching ultra-sophomoric FARGO durable), Donald Sutherland, John Ritter, Barbara Bain (Remember MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?), Tracy Ullman (TRACY ULLMAN?!) and, oh, Neve Campbell. The characters are so well-written and so devoid of historionics that some viewers may actually suffer from disorientation, adjusting their brains from the state of overexposure to usual mind-numbing stereotypes in Hollywood movies. Ritter's psychiarist, for example, is one of the two or three among hundreds of psychiarists I have seen in Hollywood movies who actually behaves like a NORMAL PSYCHIARIST and acts SENSIBLY. (MUCH superior to Lorraine Bracco's shrink in THE SOPRANOS) David Dorffmann plays Macey's son, and even though he is supposed to be a super-smart kid, he is NEVER annoying. The scenes are all underplayed with minimum of melodramatics, but they nonetheless pack emotional wallop. The quiet, beautifully lit sequence in which Donald Sutherland introduces the child version of the Macey character to "family business" is not only absolutely chilling, but also immesaruably sad. PANIC reminded me of Paul Schrader's AFFLICTION and Claude Chabrols' morally complex thrillers, such as THIS MAN MUST DIE. It is also like a particularly well-made 1950s film noir suffused with psychological insight ordinarily missing from them.
The DVD version includes a generally informative if a little reticent commentary by Director Bromell, and six deleted scenes. The deleted scenes provide additional background information for characters and deepen our understanding of them, but they also include some stilted and overblown dialogue completely absent in the actual film, the reason I suspect they were in the end dropped from the final product. I am a little disappointed that the audio commentary does not come with Macey, Sutherland and others discussing their acting strategies, given the fact that this film's success depends so much on their contributions, but this is nit-picking. I definitely recommend this movie for anyone who is a fan of Macey, Sutherland, Campbell and those who appreciate morally complex human dramas and/or thrillers. NOT RECOMMENDED, however, to those who want an action film like AIR FORCE ONE or a "quirky" movie like FARGO.
on October 25, 2015
Nearly perfect. Neve Campbell's character turns any chance at this movie being a cliche with a simple question she poses to William Macy's character, "and then what?" I watched this because I'm a Macy fan, but Neve Campbell is the axis around which this film turned for me. Macy was what I expected, but this movie surprised me in good ways. Not perfect, but nearly so.