Review: ‘Panic’

A stylishly melancholy riff on the notion that "guns don't kill people; people kill people," Henry Bromell's first feature, "Panic," explores the mid-life crisis of a dutiful son whose father obliged him to become a hit man. From William H. Macy's brooding triggerman to irresistible tyke David Dorfman as his 6-year-old son, this is a gently subversive outing full of nicely limned characters. Bromell, producer on TV series "Northern Exposure" and "I'll Fly Away," cultivates the offbeat ensemble feeling characteristic of those quirky ventures.

A stylishly melancholy riff on the notion that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” Henry Bromell’s first feature, “Panic,” explores the mid-life crisis of a dutiful son whose father obliged him to become a hit man. From William H. Macy’s brooding triggerman to irresistible tyke David Dorfman as his 6-year-old son, this is a gently subversive outing full of nicely limned characters. Bromell, producer on TV series “Northern Exposure” and “I’ll Fly Away,” cultivates the offbeat ensemble feeling characteristic of those quirky ventures.

Plot recalls the HBO series “The Sopranos,” in which mob boss Tony Soprano wrestles with a midlife crisis on the couch of his therapist while trying to keep the nature of the family business out of their sessions.

Pic, which originally debuted in Sundance’s American Spectrum this year, has so far not had a U.S. theatrical release, but aired on Cinemax Aug. 27. It is, however, to get a bigscreen outing in France, via Bac Films.

Reluctant killer Alex (Macy), finding himself in a rut, has decided to talk to a psychologist (John Ritter) about his job dissatisfaction. But this step violates the strict code Alex’s father, Michael (Donald Sutherland), inculcated in him as a lad: Don’t reveal the family business to anyone.

The only other person in on the truth is Alex’s perfectly groomed mother (Barbara Bain). Even Alex’s wife, Martha (Tracey Ullman), thinks he’s the head of a small mail-order catalog biz run from their comfortably appointed home in Southern California.

A few flashbacks show how the casually imperious Michael made it impossible for his only son to defy his wishes. And some sweetly handled scenes show that Alex is an outstanding father to his precocious son, Sammy (Dorfman).

In the therapist’s waiting room, Alex meets 23-year-old hairdresser Sarah (Neve Campbell), a genially screwed-up bisexual with fresh-faced moxie to spare. Becoming obsessed with the fetching Sarah, Alex finds his life further complicated by a pending assignment to hit a highly problematic target.

Pic’s title implies frenzy and wild activity, but the film’s charm evolves from its measured, unhurried rhythms, and originality from the tone: quirky yet convincing, irreverent yet moral. Production design is sleek and clean, in contrast to the sordid subtext.

Panic

Production

A Bac Films release (in France) of a Vault/Mad Chance production. (International sales: Summit Entertainment, L.A.) Produced by Andrew Lazar, Lori Miller, Matt Cooper. Executive producer, David Cooper. Co-producer, Jody Hedien. Directed, written by Henry Bromell.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen) Jeffrey Jur; editors, Lynzee Klingman, Cindy Mollo; music, Brian Tyler; production designer, Dan Bishop; art director, Daniel Bradford; set decorator, Emma Fairlay; costume designer, Susan Matheson; sound (Dolby), Ed White; associate producer, Carol S. Trussel; assistant director, John M. Nelson; casting, Matthew Barry. Reviewed at Deauville Festival of American Cinema (competing), Sept. 8, 2000. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Alex - William H. Macy Josh Parks - John Ritter Sarah - Neve Campbell Michael - Donald Sutherland Martha - Tracey Ullman Deidre - Barbara Bain Sammy - David Dorfman
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