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Panic Reviews

Sure, it's about a hit man who sees a shrink, but it's neither The Sopranos nor ANALYZE THIS. Aside from the familiar set-up and generic title, this is a strikingly original achievement. Alex (William H. Macy) is a sad-eyed family man who runs an at-home mail-order business. Unbeknownst to his wife, Martha (Tracey Ullman), and their six-year-old son, Sammy (David Dorfman), Alex has a second job: assassinating people for his charmingly controlling father, Mike (Donald Sutherland). Other than Alex's steely mother (Barbara Bain), the only other person who does know about his sideline is Dr. Parks (John Ritter), the psychologist Alex has begun seeing. Raised unquestioningly to be an assassin the way other children are raised to take over other family businesses, Alex has awakened to the fact that he just can't do it anymore. Mom angrily declares that he can't quit, that his father has worked too hard to build the business up from nothing, and the next thing Alex knows, he's handed a new assignment: Dr. Parks. Is it a real hit for a real client, or is this Mike's Machiavellian way of enforcing his dictum to never discuss family business? Complicating matters are Alex's tentative steps toward an affair with Sarah (Neve Campbell), a 23-year-old bundle of damaged goods, and Mike's repetition of an old pattern: He's begun taking Sammy out to the woods to teach him not so much how to shoot, but how to kill. This sad, intense human drama is really more about child abuse than murder. From the opening lines to the epilogue (one of the film's few misfires), this lean first feature from TV producer and novelist Henry Bromell sustains a taut mood of unease and isolation, and the ensemble performances (TV starlet Campbell's included) have the qualities of the highest-caliber stage work. Yet despite festival raves, Bromell's film languished on the distributor's shelf, shamefully detouring to a cable premiere in August 2000 before finally getting its early-2001 theatrical due.