The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
I've got two jobs. I run a small mail - order business out of the house. Lawn ornaments, kitchen geegaws, sexual aids--things like that. And the rest of the time? I work for my father. I kill people.
The sad-eyed patient speaks calmly. His psychiatrist says, "You're kidding, right?" No, he is not kidding. He grew up in the family business. His father was a hit man, and he's a hit man, too. Not even his wife knows; she believes the mail-order story. But now he's in his 40s, has a young son he loves and wants to stop murdering for a living.
It tells you something--it may even tell you enough--that the man, named Alex, is played by William H. Macy. This wonderful actor has a gift for edgy unhappiness, repressed resentment, and in "Panic," his character speaks too calmly and moves too smoothly, as if afraid of trip wires and booby traps. He spent his childhood afraid to stand up to his father, and in a sense his childhood has never ended.
Henry Bromell's "Panic" seeps with melancholy, old wounds, repressed anger, lust. That it is also caustically funny and heartwarming is miraculous: How does it hit so many different notes and never strain? It has a relationship between Alex and his son Sammy that reminds us of "The Sixth Sense," and one between Alex and the sexy young Sarah (Neve Campbell) that evokes "American Beauty." And Alex himself, trying to keep everyone happy, trying to keep secrets, trying to separate the compartments of his life, has the desperation of the character Macy played in "Fargo." But this is not a movie assembled from spare parts. Bromell began as a writer ("Northern Exposure," "Chicago Hope"), and this is a first film made with joy and with a writer's gift for character and dialogue. It involves a situation rich with irony and comic possibilities but isn't cynical about it; it's the kind of story that is funny when you hear it about someone else, but not funny if it happens to you.