Panic

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Panic

The long shadow of The Sopranos hangs over much of writer-director Henry Bromell's Panic, a sleek modern noir that also opens with a career felon's reluctant appointment with a shrink and features a similar disparity between the whole truth and what he chooses to reveal about himself. While the parallels are undoubtedly coincidental—the recent Analyze This and Grosse Pointe Blank are comic doppelgangers—they underline just how little is going on behind Bromell's glossy, portentous surfaces. As a TV series, The Sopranos has the obvious advantage of developing the doctor-patient relationship over time, but from the very beginning, mob kingpin James Gandolfini's sessions with his psychiatrist were a mass of tangled morals, crafty stratagems, and underlying romantic tension. In Panic, hitman William H. Macy's unsettled feelings about the family business remain rooted in an afternoon's worth of repressed childhood trauma, hardly a challenge for an armchair psychologist, let alone a trained professional. If the film seems more complicated than it actually is, that's a tribute to Macy's exceptional gift for burying his character's true thoughts and motives until the story finally forces his hand, a possible mark of his frequent collaboration with David Mamet. As a deeply melancholic family man with a trusting wife (well-played by an uncharacteristically subdued Tracey Ullman) and a precocious 6-year-old son, he suggests someone who kills not because he's cold-blooded, but because he's pathologically ineffectual. Until he reached a midlife crisis of conscience, Macy had been tightly managed by domineering father Donald Sutherland, who kept him in the dark about the clients ordering the hits. A faint glint of redemption arrives in the form of an enigmatic young woman (Neve Campbell) he meets in the waiting room of therapist John Ritter. Like a lot of other middling neo-noirs, Panic is crippled by self-consciousness, which poisons the mannered voiceover narration, glib dialogue, and standard-issue determinist plotting. (Even an actor of Sutherland's caliber can't do anything with a line like "My tits are sagging.") As a former head writer and executive producer for TV's excellent Homicide, Bromell was better at accessing emotions directly on that show than he is at gassing the screen with vague atmospherics. Panic would be entirely forgettable were it not for Macy, who kindly resuscitates the stale material and takes it further than it has any right to go.

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