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‘Silent Fall’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 28, 1994

“Silent Fall,” Bruce Beresford’s contemplative thriller about an autistic boy who witnesses the murder of his parents, is so predictable that you would almost swear you’d seen it before.

The knife-punctured bodies in the bedroom, the mute child (Ben Faulkner), the protective teenage sister (newcomer Liv Tyler) and the tortured child psychologist (Richard Dreyfuss) are all so familiar that they seem to have been lifted from some master menu of thriller elements.

Strangely enough, though, the film manages to suck you in. What’s unique here is the quiet seductiveness of the atmosphere that Beresford has created. With its leaf-strewn lawns and richly appointed country houses, the small-town setting seems too placid, too safe, to serve as a backdrop for the sort of impassioned violence that sets this drama in motion. But that vile family secrets are hidden behind the most tranquil facades is actually Beresford’s point. This isn’t a new observation, either, and luckily Beresford and Akiva Goldsman, who wrote the screenplay, don’t press it too hard.

Because the world of the autistic is so inherently fascinating, perhaps any picture that makes a serious attempt to bring it to life on the screen will benefit from its mysterious allure. And, with the help of his 9-year-old star, Beresford does a sensitive job of conveying the child’s fragile psyche.

The relationship between the boy and his older sister—who was found covered with blood and cowering in a closet at the murder scene—is also nicely rendered. Tyler, who is the daughter of Aerosmith lead singer Steve Tyler, has a provocative sensuality that is part woman, part little girl, and haunted eyes that reveal she has been just as wounded as her brother.

Though Dreyfuss has portrayed shrinks in the past and seems to be playing the character partly by rote, he does have his moments, particularly after he overcomes the trauma of an autistic patient’s suicide and commits to solving the crime. Unfortunately, when his character does finally piece together the puzzle, there is very little surprise in it. Actually, the solution is obvious to the viewer from the start, but in this case, guessing the outcome too early would rob us of the pleasure—perhaps trifling—of being duped.

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