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Silent Witness (March 15/01)

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I picked Silent Witness up at the video store. I saw Denis Leary on the cover (good sign), found that it was a thriller (even better sign) and that Michael "The Commish" Chiklis was playing the bad guy (the deal has been sealed). And while it wasn't exactly a masterpiece, it was a diverting and enjoyable way to spend 100 minutes.

William Hurt and Jennifer Tilly are in Amsterdam on business with their mute daughter, when said daughter witnesses a brutal murder. The girl gets away and the rest of the film essentially sees the bad guys attempting to silence the lone witness.

The director must have some kind of obsession with The Shining, because many of the shots within the hotel are reminiscent of that Kubrick classic. Long takes of corridors and even a few steadicam shots (though I don't think they actually used a steadicam; perhaps it wasn't in the budget) are present throughout, and I actually enjoyed the whole look of the movie. This isn't just another run-of-the-mill direct-to-video suckfest. This director actually worked with his low budget to create a palpable atmosphere with unique shots and creative filmmaking.

Earlier I mentioned the promise of Denis Leary drew me to rent this and just to warn any more of you under the same impression: His role adds up to about 10-minutes of screen time. It's essentially a cameo. He plays a quirky homeless guy that helps the mute girl escape the goons. He's good, but don't rent the movie just for him. And besides, everyone else is really good. Yes, even Michael Chiklis. You wouldn't expect that a guy who looks so meek could play evil, but he pulls it off. He's not one of those ultra-sinister bad guys; rather, an ordinary guy forced to become the bad guy through circumstances. I appreciated that aspect of the character. He wasn't just another stock villain.

What I didn't appreciate, though, were the poor attempts at humor. Many of the "jokes" fell flat and gave scenes an awkward feeling. A good example of this would be the killing the mute girl witnesses. The guy being murdered doesn't die right away, so the scene quickly turns into a tasteless retread of that cow execution sequence from Me, Myself and Irene. In that film it was hilarious since it was a comedy, but here it just stood out like a sore thumb. The humor did work on a few occasions though, such as the almost Home Alone-esque way in which the girl kept alluding (and hurting) her pursuers.

But there is a lot to like about Silent Witness (an extended chase through downtown Amsterdam, complete with a derailed streetcar, is certainly a highlight), a movie which more often than not belies it's low-budget. It's proof that not all straight-to-video fare need be moronic.

out of

© David Nusair