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PANIC (R)
Roxie Releasing
Director: Henry Bromell
Producer: Matt Cooper, Andrew Lazar, Lori Miller
Written by: Henry Bromell
Cast: William H. Macy, Donald Sutherland, Neve Campbell, Tracey Ullman, John Ritter, and Barbara Bain

Rating: out of 5


Another “Hit Man Sees Therapist” film? Far from it. Bromell takes the formula established in ANALYZE THIS and “The Sopranos” to search for something much deeper. Sure, the premise is far-fetched, but the idea of playing it for almost anything but laughs is the hook that works surprisingly well.

Macy is the hit man struggling with a domineering father (Sutherland) and a stuck in neutral marriage. He’s seeks out Ritter’s therapist in an effort to “get out of a life rut” – something he doesn’t connect to the fact he’s spent most of his life acting as Daddy’s professional disposal service. He dismisses his secret life as more of a career trap than a source of guilt, but eventually the source of his unhappiness reveals itself in a series of subtle and effective flashbacks. The tone is set by a sequence where Sutherland takes his young son to a vacant field and shows him how to fire a handgun. What starts out as a poignant moment slowly devolves into a chilling lesson on manipulation and emotional distance. It’s this powerful hold of father over son that propels the story forward, as Macy’s character sinks into an empty life built upon the impossible task of pleasing everyone.

Macy is excellent in this role. We’ve seen him before as the pathetic loser, but this time he brings a greater emotional depth and restlessness to his scenes, absent most of the physical tics and expressions carried over from previous roles. His best acting here comes in the quiet moments. We can feel and almost understand the struggle going on inside of him as he’s forced to choose between pleasing Dad and finally breaking free.

This is one of those films that takes time to unfold. Like Macy’s character, it moves at a restless but deliberate pace. A sub-plot involving the obsession of Macy’s hit man with Campbell’s Hot Young Thing seems like nothing more than a forced distraction before finally clicking. Scenes depicting Macy’s relationship with his own young son come off a little too cute, but point out the desperation he feels to stop the chain of emotional destruction before it claims another victim.

The therapy angle tends to work against the story, only because we think we’ve seen it before, but there’s a twist in the relationship I didn’t see coming until it hit me flat in the face. If you don’t have the patience to set aside visions of Tony Soprano, cultural stereotypes, and sensationalized violence, hold out; you might discover a story with more than a little subtle emotional depth and substance.

— Ed Scruggs

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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