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Film / Don't Say a Word

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"I'll never tell."

Don't Say a Word is a psychological thriller from 2001, based on a novel by Andrew Klavan and starring Michael Douglas, Sean Bean, Brittany Murphy, Famke Janssen, Jennifer Esposito and Oliver Platt.

Dr. Nathan Conrad (Douglas), a respected child psychiatrist, is called on by his colleague, Dr. Louis Sachs (Platt), to take on as a patient Elisabeth Burrows (Murphy), a deeply disturbed young woman who stabbed someone unprovoked. Elisabeth doesn't say much except to guess that Dr. Conrad wants "what they want". On Thanksgiving morning, the morning after he sees Elisabeth for the first time, Dr. Conrad's daughter Jessie is kidnapped. Patrick (Bean), the leader of the kidnappers, calls Dr. Conrad and tells him Jessie will die unless he gets Elisabeth to give him a six-digit number that will lead to a stolen diamond.


This movie provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Dr. Conrad's daughter is kidnapped by a dangerous criminal, who will kill her if he doesn't get him what he wants.
  • Apologetic Attacker: When Nathan has to drug the security guard at the hospital to get Elizabeth out, he apologizes to him.
  • Big Applesauce: Set in New York City, the Bronx and Brooklyn (though some of it was shot in Ontario).
  • Black Dude Dies First: Played With. Dolen isn't the first one we see die in the movie, but of Patrick's gang who are just out of jail, he's the first to die.
  • Buried Alive: Patrick's final fate.
  • Evil Brit: Patrick Koster.
  • Flashback Echo: As Dr. Conrad takes Elisabeth down the stairs of the subway station, she relives, and we see, the day her father was killed by Patrick.
  • Freudian Excuse: Elisabeth is basically suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after seeing her father murdered right before her eyes when she was younger.
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  • Get Out!: Elisabeth basically says this the first time Dr. Conrad interviews her.
  • Handicapped Badass: Aggie; even though she's crippled thanks to breaking her leg while skiing, still is able to fight off Dolen and then kill him.
  • Hollywood Psych: Subverted: Elisabeth basically pretends to be anything that will keep her in a psychiatric hospital, because she's afraid the people who killed her father will come after her too.
    • The film for the most part displays accurate knowledge of psychiatry. When examining Elisabeth for the first time, she appears catatonic. Dr. Conrad lifts her arm up, and when he lets go, it falls limply back down. Conrad proceeds to explain that actually catatonic patients keep their muscles tensed, not limp, which is accurate.
  • Karmic Death: A twofer: Patrick is not only buried alive with the ruby he obsessed over, he also has flashbacks to a subway train heading for him as the dirt caves in on him, just like how he killed Elizabeth's father.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: An unusual version of this trope in that it's the B plot that's the minor crime.
  • Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: Nathan Conrad vs Patrick Koster.
  • Oh, Crap!: Nathan when he sees the broken lock on his front door and realizes someone took Jessie.
  • Rule of Three: Patrick gives three rules to Dr. Conrad; follow instructions, don't contact the police, and find out the number Elisabeth knows before 5 pm that night. Later, in an Ironic Echo, Dr. Conrad delivers his own rules; no clock, he wants to speak to Jessie ASAP, and no more phone.
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands: The gang is somehow able to not only break into Dr Conrads place and kidnap his daughter without making any noise, they are also able to plant cameras everywhere in the apartment, including the Conrad's own bedroom, without waking anybody.
  • Title Drop: "If you want your daughter returned to you, don't say a word." Also an example of Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Thanks to the movie's website, as well as the trailer, the line was originally thought to be, "Rule number one; don't say a word."
  • Time for Plan B: Discussed. Conrad forces Sachs to tell Patrick that they are going to Plan B in order to buy time to get Elizabeth out of the hospital.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Along with Dr. Conrad trying to find out what Elisabeth knows, there's also the plot of Detective Cassidy trying to solve a murder that seems to be unrelated but isn't.
  • Waif Prophet: Elisabeth gives strong vibes of the trope.


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