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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Panic (2000)

Dr. Parks: What are you really feeling Alex?
Alex: Tired, I feel tired.

- John Ritter, William H. Macy

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: June 07, 2001

Stars: William H. Macy, Neve Campbell, Donald Sutherland
Other Stars: Tracey Ullman, John Ritter, Barbara Bain, David Dorfman
Director: Henry Bromell

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: R for (language and elements of violence)
Run Time: 01h:27m:46s
Release Date: June 19, 2001
UPC: 012236117278
Genre: film noir

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B B

DVD Review

Alex (William H. Macy) meanders slowly through each day in a monotonous haze devoid of any emotion or energy. His feelings remain trapped inside, he hardly sleeps, and his relationship with his wife Martha (Tracey Ullman) is deteriorating quickly. While the onset of this type of depression does sometimes happen to suburban dads facing middle age, his situation is much more complicated; Alex is a professional killer.

Panic takes a compelling look at an apparently normal father and son involved in the unusual business of being hired killers. Michael (Donald Sutherland)‹Alex¹s demure but psychotic father‹contracts the killings and sends his son out to handle each murder. Since neither one knows what the other is doing, they have "total deniability" if problems arise with the authorities. While their business is going well, Alex continues to spiral into depression, and decides to visit a psychologist, Dr. Parks (John Ritter). Unfortunately, this violates the family code of silence, and could lead to disastrous consequences.

Although its plot appears to mirror a conventional thriller, this film actually works better as a character study with a deliberate pace. First time writer/director Henry Bromell appears more interested in the inner workings of each individual that cause the ultimate conflicts in the story. Martha is a fairly typical housewife who supports her husband in all his endeavors, but she has no idea of the true nature of his business. As Alex drifts further away, her desperation and confusion increases to an astronomical level. On the other side, there¹s Sarah (Neve Campbell)‹wild, stunning, and only 23 years old‹who helps Alex discover a bit of life again through his relationship with her. These character types have existed before in countless films, but Bromell brings a fresh spin to each one by drawing them more naturally than the usual caricatures. Sarah may be young and crazy, but she has her own problems and shortcomings that increase her bond and understanding with Alex. Martha may feel powerless to support her husband, but she¹s hardly devoid of unhappiness in her own life.

One exception to Alex¹s depressing life is his connection with his young son Sammy (David Dorfman)‹an enthusiastic, likable boy who brings out the best in his father. Their conversations before bed reveal a softer, emotional side to Alex that has been crushed by his job and his father¹s dominance. Sammy is bright and full of life, and his ebullient personality contrasts sharply with the culture of violence originated by his grandfather. Dorfman (Bounce) is a wonderful child actor, exuding a charm and believability that rarely exists in actors of his age. His chemistry with Macy really carries this story and brings life to some difficult scenes.

It¹s enjoyable watching a cast of talented actors who completely believe in the film and its characters. Neve Campbell (Scream, Three to Tango) has always had magnetism on screen, but she¹s never played a character with the depth of Sarah. This opportunity allows her to express abilities that go far beyond having a pretty face. Campbell makes Sarah appear fairly superficial at first, but she slowly reveals the pain and longing that exists in her troubled heart. Donald Sutherland gives a gritty and powerful performance as the dominant father who refuses to allow his son to live his own life. He appears to live a fairly basic existence, with trips to restaurants, the park, and bowling alleys, but a sinister demeanor exists beneath the surface. He plays the crotchety suburban grandfather perfectly, then conveys the other side of this character. William H. Macy (Fargo, Magnolia ) provides his usual excellent performance, and Barbara Bain (from the original Mission:Impossible television series) is especially eerie as Deidre‹Alex¹s doting but forthright mother.

Panic originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2000, but it generated poor scores from test audiences and struggled to find a distributor. It finally came out in a limited release this past December, and is slowly filtering its way to cities across the country. The primary reason for this lack of support is that the story doesn¹t fall into one specific genre. It¹s a thriller on the surface, but it also contains elements of family drama and black comedy. The studios couldn¹t figure out how to market it, so they ignored this well-written film.

Henry Bromell has spent considerable time writing and directing for impressive television dramas like Homicide: Life on the Street and Northern Exposure. This background has helped him to create a group of intriguing and three-dimensional characters. His television experience and the extremely low budget also leads to a straightforward editing style that allows the actors to put everything into their performances. Scenes often go on for a lengthy period within a single shot, keeping our focus on the characters and their thoughts. With limited resources, Bromell has created a complex, fascinating film that hopefully will reach a larger audience in its DVD release.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Director Henry Bromell keeps the visual elements fairly simple in Panic with a minimum of cuts and complex locations. This limits the abilities of this decent 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer to really shine. However, it still works nicely in providing solid and bright colors within a clear picture. Virtually zero defects exist on this transfer, and the dark, claustrophobic feeling of the film comes across impressively. A notable exception to the sparse visual style is the opening scene, which delivers stunning images of a massive business center.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The mournful, extremely effective score resonates well from the 2.0-channel Dolby Surround audio transfer on this disc. Although dialogue dominates the events, the background music jumps from the speakers and carries the tone of the story toward its ultimate conclusion. It's unfortunate that Panic lacks a top-notch 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer. The included one does work nicely, but its limits in depth are noticeable and regrettable. This absence doesn't hinder the film, and the sound is fine, but it could have been excellent with a digital track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Henry Bromell
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A decent commentary from writer/director Henry Bromell highlights an adequate selection of extra features on this disc. Bromell speaks with a dry demeanor, and he often pauses for lengthy periods during several of the best scenes in the film. However, he does provide some interesting background into the story and his editing style. It's intriguing to note the strategy Bromell used during the scenes with young David Dorfman. All the cameras were hidden, and Dorfman and William H. Macy would just improvise for a while before beginning the scene. This would keep him from becoming too nervous about his scenes. Also, the young boy couldn't read yet, so he spoke all of his lines from memory. This commentary remains fairly interesting throughout, but it's frustrating when Bromell fails to elaborate more on his concepts.

The other major supplement is a selection of five deleted scenes that adds little to the final product. The most interesting one gives a more prominent role to Sean‹the guy Sarah picks up at the basement bar. It shows him much more enamored with her than what ends up in the final film. The entire collection of scenes runs for about five minutes.

This disc also contains an extensive cast and crew section that includes amazingly complete filmographies and impressive biographies of all the major players. Finally, we have the original theatrical trailer, presented in a well-done 2.35 widescreen version.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Spurred by an excellent cast, straightforward directing, and an intriguing story, Panic succeeds in creating impressive cinema. Running less than 90 minutes, this film grabs you and remains enthralling until its final reel. I highly recommend that you check out this Artisan release even if you're unfamiliar with it. The fully drawn characters and interesting concept make this experience well wroth the brief running time.


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