Panic DVD review

Obvious plot points aside, this William H Macy flick has a lot going for it...


I recently reviewed Columbus Day, a film in which the great Val Kilmer flexed his considerable acting muscles to lift what is otherwise a distinctly so-so thriller. I mention that here – apart from wanting to bring more exposure to that gem of a performance – because Panic is a similar case of fantastic acting in a very bog standard movie.

This time, however, I’m not just talking one good performance because the cast of Panic includes such venerable acting talents as Donald Sutherland, the great, late John Ritter and William H Macy. Macy lands a rare star billing as hitman Alex who is beset with the odd personality crisis.

Dissatisfied with his family life, unsure of where his own life is heading and feeling utterly alone, we first meet him in conversation with a shrink. Then, in a series of flashbacks and fast forwards, Alex’s life is fleshed out further, at which point we realise that his line of work is part of the family firm, owned proudly by Sutherland. We also learn that Alex wants out, that his wife (played somewhat clumsily by Tracey Ullman) knows nothing about his profession, that his son has minor learning difficulties and that his dad wants Alex to buck his ideas up – and fast.

Welcome respite comes in the form of Sarah (a cracking turn against type from the former Party Of Five‘r Neve Campbell), a young, damaged bi-sexual who shows interest in Alex. Their relationship, played out first in the waiting room of Ritter’s psychiatrist business and gradually in the outside world, is a dangerous one – Alex risks losing it all – and the vulnerabilities of both parties is all too clear.

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The interactions of all the characters throughout the movie are what makes this worth viewing. Macy is, as ever, mesmerising, relaying emotions in the subtlest of facial movements and through seemingly innocuous conversations. Sutherland plays the world-weary bad guy as well as you would expect and Campbell’s vulnerable beauty ensures her relationship with Alex is believable. Ritter weighs in with a strong supporting role as does Barbara Bain as Alex’s mother. Indeed, the only flat note is from David Dorfman, playing Alex’s son Sammy, who proves that good child actors are hard to find.

The core cast pull in performances worthy of a much bigger film and it’s a shame that after a solid opening hour the film slightly loses its way for the big denouement, the revelations and final movements proving obvious to anyone who’s ever spent any significant time watching thrillers. That’s an issue that troubles this film in general with apparent plot twists being guessed long before they play out on screen. This rather formulaic approach does harm an otherwise interesting story and I ultimately felt disappointed come the film’s end credits that this wasn’t the movie it could so nearly have been.

That said, if you like watching fine actors refining their craft you could do worse than give this a look.

3 stars


3 out of 5