“A Story of Family, Lust, Murder …and Other Midlife Crises”
Director: Henry Bromell
Cast: William H. Macy, Neve Campbell, John Ritter
Synopsis: Alex, a hit man, tries to get out of the family business, but his father won’t let him do so. While seeking the help of a therapist, he meets a sexually charged 23-year-old woman with whom he falls in love.
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
Even hitmen lead lives of quiet desperation, it seems. At least, William H. Macy’s Alex does in Henry Bromell’s modest low-budget drama, Panic. I’m not sure what that title refers to exactly — either that sickening moment experienced by a man entering his mid-life crisis when he suddenly realises his life is half over, or the moment when Alex learns that his father is initiating his own son in the mechanics of the family business. One of these episodes opens the movie, the other heralds its conclusion, so perhaps the title refers to both.
Alex’s apprenticeship into the family business as a teenager was overseen by his confident, domineering father Michael (Donald Sutherland). There’s nothing unusual about that, other than the fact that the family business just happens to be contract killing. The family are very successful. They live in comfortable homes and are outwardly respectable with no apparent links to organised crime (although given the nature of their business it must be impossible for the links not to be there). In one of a number of revealing flashbacks we see Alex’s first hit, personally supervised by his father. Now, thirty-or-so years later, Alex has a young son of his own and is finally starting to question the morality of what he does for a living.
He attends therapy, visiting Dr Josh Parks (John Ritter) once a week. It is in Parks’ waiting room that he meets Sarah Cassidy (Neve Campbell), a sexually adventurous woman half his age, with whom he becomes infatuated. A tentative relationship develops between them, but when Michael learns of his son’s psychiatric therapy he tasks his son with the killing of his own shrink.
It’s impossible not to feel sympathetic towards Alex despite his profession. He lives in the shadow of his father, and struggles to assert himself in many situations, particularly when it comes to his family. The terrible knowledge that his life is slowly, irrevocably, unravelling fills him with a melancholy which only serves to compound his inability to change its pattern. Macy, as usual, pulls off the demands of the portrayal with aplomb in a role that has echoes of his character from the more famous Fargo. He’s terrified of disappointing those around him, and seems destined to make his own fears real.
Macy’s understated desperation is matched by Sutherland’s superb performance as his father, one of those reasonable monsters to whom morals are an alien — and baffling — concept. Campbell is also good as the object of Alex’s middle-aged infatuation; she’s, aided by the fact that Bromell’s script gives her a measure of depth which is so often lacking in the ‘other woman’ role. Alex’s wife is played by British comedienne Tracy Ullmann. Completely ignorant of her husband’s real job, she’s a woman who seems excluded from her own life, and in the family scenes with Alex and their son Sammy (David Dorfman) she comes across as an outsider, so deep is the bond between father and son.
(Reviewed 21st July 2013)