Why has autism become a popular device in orchestrating dramas and thrillers like HOUSE OF CARDS (1993), the 1994 telepic "The Innocent", and now SILENT FALL? Now that the on-screen victimization of seemingly helpless women--formerly a convenient concept for suspense movies (e.g., THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, WAIT UNTIL DARK)--is considered less than PC, these...read more
Why has autism become a popular device in orchestrating dramas and thrillers like HOUSE OF CARDS (1993), the 1994 telepic "The Innocent", and now SILENT FALL? Now that the on-screen victimization of seemingly helpless women--formerly a convenient concept for suspense movies (e.g., THE
SPIRAL STAIRCASE, WAIT UNTIL DARK)--is considered less than PC, these damsels-in-distress have been usurped by developmentally disabled small fry. SILENT FALL, however, is inept enough to prompt the establishment of a Society for the Protection of Children Used as Plot-hooks.
When his parents are brutally murdered, Tim Warden (Ben Faulkner), an autistic boy, is the only witness. How did his over-protective teenaged sister Sylvie (Liv Tyler) end up cowering in a bedroom closet? Could Tim have been the culprit? The Sheriff (J.T. Walsh) hires retired child psychologist
Jacob Rainer (Richard Dreyfuss) to retrieve Tim's memories of the deadly attack. Emotionally warped by the drowning of a boy in his care, Jake Rainer resists getting involved despite the pleading of his wife Karen (Linda Hamilton). After a quack psychiatrist, Dr. Harlinger (John Lithgow), proposes
drastic drug therapy, Jake shelves his guilt and bonds with Tim. Red herrings crop up, implicating both Dr. Harlinger and the Sheriff, who was having an affair with the late Mrs. Warden. On an outing to a dockside restaurant, Jake discovers that Tim is a gifted mimic; he's able to induce the
youngster to act out snatches of dialogue overheard at the crime scene. Then further complications arise when provocative Sylvie pulls a Lolita on the susceptible Jake, who manages to resist. Abetted by Harlinger, the Sheriff proposes a potentially harmful test that would prove Tim was physically
capable of the crime. It's now revealed that Sylvie has been masterminding the course of the investigation; her only mistake was to assume that Jake would abandon the case because of his checkered past. She drugs Jake and tries to drown him in an icy pond, but Tim summons up powers of
concentration and rescues his doctor. We learn that Sylvie, driven mad by her father's sexual abuse and her mother's failure to intervene, is the murderer. Jake and Karen adopt Tim, who improves markedly in their care.
Respected director Bruce Beresford (DRIVING MISS DAISY, TENDER MERCIES) was not the man to fashion SILENT FALL into a crowd-pleasing thriller. His pace is deliberate; his grasp of suspense is tentative. Even so, it would take a genius like Hitchcock, or at least a proficient craftsman like
Curtis Hanson or Joseph Ruben, to whip this flaccid screenplay into workable shape. The killer's identity is never really in question, and SILENT FALL emerges as a suspense movie without surprises, an enervated thriller whose expository scenes wear out their welcome. Attempts to explore Jake's
redemption through his healing friendship with the child are unpersuasive: underwritten in the screenplay and underdeveloped by the director, the shrink-patient relationship emerges as derivative and uninvolving. Failing to scare us and unable to move us, SILENT FALL manages only to exploit a
heartbreaking psychological ailment as a means of pumping life into genre cliches. (Graphic violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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