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PANIC

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Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: William H. Macy, John Ritter, Neve Campbell, Donald Sutherland, Tracey Ullman
Director: Henry Bromell
Audio: Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Artisan
Features: Deleted Scenes, Commentary, Trailer
Length: 93 Minutes
Release Date: June 19, 2001

“I have two jobs. I run a small mail-order business out of the house. Lawn ornaments, kitchen geegaws, sexual aids, things like that.”
“And the rest of the time?”
“I work for my father. I kill people.”

Film ***

Panic is a most intriguing character piece of an enormously depressed soul. The quote above is from the central character, Alex (William H. Macy), who is confessing his problem to his shrink, Dr. Parks (John Ritter) upon their first session. Alex has the appearance of a quite normal, peaceful man. Harbored underneath this appearance is Alex’s guilt towards his private job, which nobody but himself and his father know about, other than the psychiatrist. Alex has even kept it a secret from his wife and 6-year-old son. The fact that he has a young son to raise is more than enough to motivate him to give up the hit man for hire business.

The film gives us a disturbing portrait of how evil traits are passed down from father to son. In several flashback scenes, Alex’s father, Michael (Donald Sutherland), is seen teaching Alex, both in his pre-teen and teenage years, the art of killing. The first target he is trained to kill is a squirrel, and the targets elevated from that point on. Alex didn’t enjoy killing the squirrel at all, or any of his targets for that matter, but in many ways, it’s his father pulling the trigger buy torturing Alex’s psyche, because we get a true feeling that Alex wouldn’t harm a soul on this planet without the proper sinister motivation. And who better to deliver that than an elder of your family.

During the course of his sessions with Parks, Alex becomes acquainted with Sarah (Neve Campbell), who goes to see a shrink for different reasons, of course. Alex soon falls in love with the attractive young girl, hoping that this minor adulterous affair could breathe some kind of beauty that is missing, not from his married life, which is actually alright, by Alex’s overall pain induced from his work.

The performances in Panic are all top notch to the fullest. Macy, playing a role similar to that of Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo, is a perfect choice to play Alex because Macy is so terrific in playing roles that require hiding emotions underneath a surface. Like the character in Fargo, Alex is at risky stage in his life, by doing something he’s not sure he can pull off, which is step up to his sinister father and quit the business. Donald Sutherland is remarkably convincing as the father that no one wants to have, that is if you have a moral soul. And Neve Campbell, who I wondered if she’d ever do another film following the Scream trilogy, shows a sparkling touch to the role of Sarah.

We’ve seen the professional killer theme done better in such films as Grosse Pointe Blank and The Professional, but Panic is a masterwork of performance and style, much in the noir tradition.

Video ***1/2

Considering that I don’t recall this film hitting many theaters, which is a shame, Artisan surprises with this nicely trimmed transfer. This anamorphic presentation is sharp, crisp, and mostly clear to the fullest. It only suffers primarily from numerous instances of softness in some of the more darkly lit scenes. Other than that, a pleasingly looking disc.

Audio ***

Panic is made up mostly of dialogue and is presented only in a 2.0 surround track, but Artisan’s audio job still manages to show off some superiority in this presentation. The wonderful music score, composed by Brian Tyler, which is made up of soft piano, similar to the sound you’d find in say, a Michael Mann movie, is delivered beautifully. Not much can be made of the sound quality for this kind of film, but this is still a stellar quality.

Features **1/2

Sometimes Artisan hits the high note with extras, and sometimes they don’t. For Panic, it’s sort of in between. There’s a commentary by writer/director Henry Bromell, a deleted scenes section, and a trailer for the movie featured.

Summary:

Intriguingly plotted and masterfully character-driven, Panic is a unique little film that sadly didn’t find its audience. Hopefully this DVD release will change that, because it is worth checking out.