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Panic (2000)

A story of family, lust, murder… and other midlife crises.

Directed by:

Henry Bromell

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 88 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

Panic on the streets of London! Panic on the streets of Birmingham! And also, if this directorial debut from Henry Bromell is anything to go by, on the streets of Los Angeles – although it’s a distinctly modest and understated brand of panic we see here (if such a thing is possible?) thanks to the ever-safe hands of that King of the Feeble Side-Glance, William H. Macy.

Macy, disappointingly appearing here sans moustache, plays Alex, a husband and dad who’s fortunate enough to be able to hold down two separate jobs. On the one hand, he runs his own vaguely-successful mail ordering company and, on the other, he’s a hit-man. The former is his own idea, the latter is the family business: and yes, I do have that the right way round.

From the outside looking in, life as an importer-exporter-murderer would appear to be just about as good as it gets, but on the inside poor ol’ Alex is a man troubled by demons. So he visits chubby shrink Dr Parks (John Ritter) and, while he’s in the waiting room, he takes something of a fancy to slightly-grungy fellow patient Sarah (Neve Campbell). Just you keep your eyes on the four-month-old magazines next time, mister!

As a first-time effort from Bromell (who also wrote the clever, if not massively original, screenplay), this is a film displaying an astounding level of promise. He gets strong performances out of each of his leads: not just Macy and Campbell, but also Donald Sutherland as Alex’s sneering dad and, most impressively of all, young David Dorfman as the family sprog. The direction is stylish without ever becoming distracting, with moments of deep tension making way every now and again for just the right amount of black humour. Running at less than 90 minutes, it’s perhaps more rushed than it needed to be (it’s easily good enough to hold the attention for another 15 minutes or so), and I have to admit I’d seen the plot turns coming long before they unfolded on screen – but, for a film made on an apparently low budget and with relatively little experience, there’s a lot to admire about ‘Panic’.

It's Got: Neve Campbell describing William H. Macy as “beautiful”. Sorry? I know he’s ditched the mouser, but that’s taking things a bit far is it not?

It Needs: Panic on the streets of Carlisle, Dublin, Dundee, Humberside.

DVD Extras An audio commentary, five deleted scenes, some background bumf you have to read off the screen (am I just being cynical here, or is nobody EVER going to read all that stuff?), cast and crew credits, a weblink and a trailer. It could really do with some sort of behind-the-scenes featurette on there, but other than that it’s a reasonable enough package. Version reviewed: Panic (Artisan Home Entertainment) DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Summary

Don’t panic! This little-known black-comic thriller is much better than its little-known status might suggest.

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