Monday Movie: Panic
Henry Bromell’s Panic is a movie about a midlife crisis not unlike all the other movies we’ve seen about midlife crises, from Save the Tiger to American Beauty and many more before and since. Alex (William H. Macy) is a man who followed his father (Donald Sutherland) into the family business decades ago and now finds himself at an existential loss where his career, his marriage and his life are concerned. He’s begun seeing a therapist (John Ritter) and pining after a much younger woman (Neve Campbell). Everything about Alex is a bit of a cliché – not that he feels any less strongly because of that – except for the twist that this family’s trade happens to be murder for hire.
Whereas a lesser American indie from the era (Panic was released, barely, in 2000) would be content to rest on that hook and turn the tale into a slick, cynical parody or extended comedy sketch, Bromell makes the bolder and ultimately more rewarding choice to abstract his story to the point where the film becomes more about its own structure than anything else.
Maybe the first thing that will strike you about Panic is Jeff Jur’s cinematography. He pulls the camera back from the modern, expensive, urban locales where the film takes place in order to take in the serene geometry of a designed and constructed world. Plazas, stairwells, living rooms; in Jur’s eye, they all look like the interior of a gleaming alien spaceship.
Secondly, you’ll notice the dialogue. It’s razor sharp and not at all naturalistic but provides a rush of sleek forward momentum. The look and the sound of Panic, taken together, offer a world that is awesome but harsh and rigid from the outside while potentially quite empty within. It’s both the smartest and the saddest comedy about a hitman you’re ever likely to see.