Subtle yet elusive, no wait that's the flavor of my popcorn
There's been an awful lot of crime and therapy stories coming down the pike in the last several years - Analyze This (and the upcoming Analyze That), the Don's Analyst, and of course, the Sopranos. The theory here being that, of all the people out there who might need therapy, those who regularly inflict harm on others might just need it the most.
In that sense, Panic is a run of the mill variation on the theme - it doesn't have the pointed humor of Analyze This, and doesn't have the freedom to get deep into its subject matter the way the Sopranos can in an episodic show. This isn't to say the script doesn't treat its material well, simply that we're not seeing any new ground broken.
But what a cast for something that really never hit the national radar. William H. Macy plays the contract killer at the center of things, getting preoccupied with his second thoughts about his career. Tracey Ullman is his unknowing wife, feeling something wrong in their relationship for the first time. Donald Sutherland is Macy's father, a cantankerous bastard who runs the show. John Ritter is the therapist, and Neve Campbell is the patient our erstwhile hitman takes up with in the waiting room. These performances are awesome, and they illuminate what would otherwise be pedestrian material.
While we get a close look at what's going on in these folks' lives, we are kept at a very measured distance from the emotions by the filmmakers. That sort of move is always a bit of a gamble, because it depends heavily on the audience's participation - they simply have to be engaged enough to be able to fill in the details. I suspect that's what killed the commercial viability of this film - it was too much work for people to "get it".
Ultimately, whether you like this film is going to depend on what you allow to impress you. If you are into subtleties of feeling and performance, this one comes recommended.
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