Most promotional posters for “Panic” have a gun on them, and the film opens with that dread-filled suspense music we’re accustomed to. Then a voice says, “You ever get the feeling you’re dead?”
So begins “Panic,” a noirish drama from writer/director Henry Bromell. The voice belongs to Alex (William H. Macy), and he’s talking to his therapist, Josh (John Ritter). Alex is going through an unusual midlife crisis: He kills people for a living, under the employ of his father (Donald Sutherland), and he’d like out of the family business now, if you don’t mind.
He has a wife, Martha (Tracey Ullman, in a rare non-comedic role), from whom he is growing increasingly distant. (“Are you getting enough sex from Martha?” asks his imperious mother, played by Barbara Bain.) He also has a smart 6-year-old son named Sammy (David Dorfman), with whom he has late-night chats about infinity, death and the music of Beck.
Alex loves his family but has become fascinated with Sarah (Neve Campbell), a quasi-lesbian whom he met in the therapist’s waiting room. He’s not sure what he wants from her at first, though an affair seems in order.
While Alex is in the midst of figuring out how to get out of Dad’s business and how to secure a liaison with Sarah, Dad gives him a new assignment. The target? Josh the therapist. Dilemmas, dilemmas.
Macy is perfect as the sad, weary men he usually plays now. His eyes, as Sarah points out, really do convey a lot of sadness, but they’re not bitter. They’ve just seen too much of the world, and they’re tired. One look at those eyes, and one is bound to feel sympathetic for Macy, whoever he’s playing.
Bromell’s dialogue often strives for the hip triviality of Mamet or Tarantino, but usually comes off more as a slightly sophisticated USA Network offering. He also straddles a little too uncomfortably the line between crime noir and suburban drama. Is this a movie about a hitman who wants out, or a man finding his place in his family? I’m not saying a movie can’t be both, but this one is not entirely effective at either.
It is, however, an interesting film, and it occasionally breaks out with some sharp moments. Its strict sense of morality is also thought-provoking. Plus, it has a kid who listens to Beck, so it can’t be all bad.
B- (; )