Panic stars William H. Macy as Alex, a guy who is going through a standard mid-life crisis.  He's doing well in the family business, and has a loving wife and wonderful six-year-old son.  For some reason, he's still not happy.  Alex decides to visit a psychologist to sort things out.  By the way, the family business is that of contract killer. 
    So, Alex is forced to face some rather difficult decisions.  How much should he tell the psychologist, played by John Ritter?  What will make him happy?  Should he have a fling with the 'sweet young thing', played by Neve Campbell, whom he met in the doctor's waiting room?  Should he quit the family business?  What would his father, played by Donald Sutherland, think of him if he does?  Or should he just forget all the psychobabble and complete his next assignment?
    Given that premise, one would be tempted to compare this film with the movie Analyse This, a comedy about a mob boss who seeks help from a psychiatrist.  While there are many darkly humorous moments in Panic, it is certainly not a comedy.  Unlike the characters of Analyse This, it is quite believable that the people portrayed in Panic may actually exist in the real world.  Alex comes from a family whose morals are so twisted that life and death have become nothing more than cheap commodities, and the film demonstrates that point with shocking clarity.

    This gritty, realistic feeling is due in large part to writer/director Henry Bromell.  This is Bromell's feature debut as director, but he's had much experience with the crime-drama genre as writer and director for the critically acclaimed NBC television program Homicide: Life on the Streets.  It also helps that this film was produced independent of the Hollywood studio system.  Panic has the Hollywood gloss, but not the Hollywood mentality.  Unlike the Studio suits, Bromell realizes that those in the audience have brains, and that, given the chance, they know how to use them.
    Bromell also has what moviemakers like to call a 'dream' cast.  The actors and actresses in this film are great!  Macy, Ullman, and Sutherland do outstanding jobs, as always.  Ritter continues to build his fine 'Indie' film reputation, and I found myself wondering why no one, until now, has ever allowed Neve Campbell to actually act in a film.  She was fantastic as well!
    Panic was quite popular at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, and has played on American television cable stations that run Sundance selections. If you are lucky enough to find a theatre playing this movie, by all means, see it!!!  It's one of the best of 2000.
A.J.'s Rating: 4 Hopelessly Hesitant Hitmen
Directed By:  Henry Bromell
Starring:  William H. Macy, Neve Campbell, Tracey Ullman,
Donald Sutherland, John Ritter
Rated:  R (Violence / Language)
Running Time:  90 Min.

What's a killer to do?
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Review published
January 5, 2001
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