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When Sarah (Neve Campbell) strikes up a conversation with a sad-eyed man called Alex (William H. Macy) at her therapist's office, she asks, "Are you one of those middle-aged guys who's tired of his marriage and thinking maybe a beautiful young thing could help him out?" She's right, but the source of Alex's depression is far from typical: he's a second-generation hit man who wants out, but his mom and dad won't let him quit.
Donald Sutherland makes Alex's laconic and utterly monstrous father the most frightening parent since John Huston in Chinatown. A series of flashbacks show how he introduced Alex to his trade, beginning with shooting squirrels in the woods. We never find out whether Alex's father has mob connections, and the fact that it's just a business to him ("This one's a big job, lots of moola, I'll buy your mother a Lexus") makes him all the more chilling. Alex's mother (the steely Barbara Bain) knows all about the family business, but his wife (Tracey Ullman) thinks he runs a mail-order company, and the only person he confides in is a therapist (John Ritter). When he meets and falls for Sarah, Alex realizes that he alone can stand up to his father, and he needs to act before his own son becomes the next apprentice.
Henry Bromell's debut film as a writer-director probes the same dark corners of the middle-aged male psyche as American Beauty and The Sopranos. Alex's tormented life is a symbol of the damage that parents can inflict on their children, and Bromell imbues his story with a tragic inevitability. Panic received a shamefully limited theatrical release, in spite of its rare combination of a great script and brilliant performances. It deserves to be rediscovered and appreciated by a much larger audience on home video. --Simon Leake
Top Customer Reviews
A hit-man wants out of the family business, and in to the pants of Neve Campbell. Which, I suppose, makes him a murderer and a philanderer. Not that you'll feel anything but empathy and compassion for William H. Macy's character: which, of course, is his genius.
In a story that explores, among other things, the whole family dynamic - from the damage our parents do us, to the effort needed to make a marriage succeed - you'll find it all rings true. The context of the story is alien and exotic, but the relationships aren't. Your father is probably not a controlling and manipulative sociopath (and, you know, small mercies and all that ...) but even so, how many of us would find it easy to step up and admonish him, when he steps over the line?
Donald Sutherland's performance as the sociopathic pater is astonishingly good. He actually had me shouting at the screen. And I'm British. We just don't do that ...
Give this movie a go. You won't find the experience entirely comfortable, nor will it be an escape from the rigours of the world (because there's too much of the world in the movie) but it will make you laugh, wince, cheer and, most importantly of all, it will make you think.
The side story involving Neve Campbell isn't very interesting.
A professional killer (played brilliantly by Bill Macy) is at a crossroads in his life as his own young son has reached the age when he himself was indoctrinated by his father to bottle his emotions and start shooting at squirrels, an activity that ended in him adopting the family business of paid assassinations.
That predicament is intriguing in itself, but handled as professionally as the film does, it is absolutely riveting. The dialogue is sharp and smart, and this relatively short film nevertheless has the power to elicit a full range of emotions from the viewer. There are places to laugh, to be shocked, horrified, saddened, aroused, angry, and to love. A wholesome treat.
It is an actor's movie, and the ensemble of terrific artists -- Macy, Neve Campbell, Ullman, and Ritter -- play off each other like members of a top-notch theatrical troupe, who realize that a quality product requires each actor to support the others unselfishly. Barbara Bain and Donald Sutherland -- who play father and mother -- are positive chilling, discussing the "family business" as if it were a grocery store or a dry cleaners. And remarkably, there's Sammy (David Dorfman), the young boy, who turns in an absolutely stunning performance, not to mention his uncanny resemblance to Ullman, whose son he plays! Great cast selection.
Watch this masterpiece if you get a chance! This is stuff you'd even want to own.
Alex [William H. Macy] is having a mid-life crisis. Without telling his friends or family, he goes to a psychologist for help. When the doctor asks him what he does for a living, Alex replies that he has two jobs. He has a mail order business, and he works for his father. When the shrink asks what he does for Dad, he says that he kills people. Yes, dear old Dad runs a hit man service. And Alex wonders why he feels empty inside! Meanwhile, in the doctor's waiting room, he meets Sarah [Neve Campbell], a strange, desolate and beautiful girl who makes Alex feel alive for the first time in a months. How will Alex solve his crisis? What role will the girl play? Will his wife find out his true profession? Can his twisted father persuade him to go through with the next hit?
What a dumb plot, some of you are thinking, and in lesser hands, it would be. Director and writer Henry Bromell cleverly gives the tale richness and depth. There are several layers to it. Alex may be a bad man in many ways, but loves his wife and his relationship with his young son, played by the extraordinary David Dorfman, is caring and genuine. Their scenes together are poignant and memorable. I suspect that the story is meant to be allegorical. The hit man theme is there to show the extraordinary lengths a sons can go to please his father, no matter how cruel and ruthless that father might be. Even the most dysfunctional family can have unbreakable bonds and twisted loyalties.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
The boy who plays Sammy, the hit man's son, is about the cutest thing I've ever seen! He's just darling! Read morePublished on Feb. 11 2004 by Lovely
Ok, it stars out kind of slow for about the first 15 minutes. After that you get this highly intriguing story about a seemingly normal guy (William H. Read morePublished on Feb. 9 2003
All fans of masterful acting should take a gander at "Panic". A little-seen gem that initially seems to be a part of the ever-expanding "criminal and his... Read morePublished on Jan. 1 2003 by M J Heilbron Jr.
This movie has two absolute highlights:
First one is William H. Macy as Alex. His feeling of exemption in the end is so obvious and touching. Read more
I wasn't totally sure what to expect when I rented this movie. I was browsing the shelves, and this one had caught my eye several times. Read morePublished on Feb. 13 2002 by Mike Slembrouck
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