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‘Silent Fall’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 28, 1994

“Silent Fall,” a dramatically repressed psychodrama, could be sued for creative malpractice. Director Bruce Beresford’s latest movie, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Linda Hamilton, is so tired and unimaginative, the brain starts to wander. Bored, listless questions come to mind: Does Dreyfuss—who plays a psychologist investigating a murder—resemble a gerbil or a guinea pig? Why would Hamilton take such a throwaway role as Dreyfuss’s ignored wife? Who wrote this junk, anyway?

Dreyfuss, who has deserted his child psychology practice after inadvertently causing a young patient’s death, is called in by the local sheriff (J.T. Walsh) to probe the mind of a traumatized child. Seems the kid (Ben Faulkner) witnessed the stabbing of his parents. Clutching the murder weapon at the scene of the crime, he swishes the blade at anyone who approaches. Realizing the youngster is autistic, Dreyfuss kneels before the boy, launches into a cutesy TV game show routine and talks Faulkner into swapping the knife for a deck of cards. For the audience, this is an opportunity to either love Dreyfuss for the sensitive, insightful doctor he is, or picture him scuttling around inside one of those hamster wheels.

Dreyfuss reluctantly agrees to help Walsh’s investigation. While he works on getting Faulkner to open up, various suspects present themselves:

Faulkner who, after all, was holding the knife.

Walsh, who has played a slew of movie villains before.

Dreyfuss’s rival psychologist John Lithgow, a demented physician dying to shoot the kid full of truth serum, who has also played his share of villains.

Liv Tyler, the kid’s 18-year-old sister who also witnessed the murders.

Hamilton, whose entire narrative purpose is to prick Dreyfuss’s conscience for avoiding kids and who—let’s not forget—had that intense body workout for “Terminator 2.”

This is extremely unethical, but I must now identify the real murderer. It’s scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman, who did the adaptation of John Grisham’s “The Client” (about a kid who witnesses a suicide), and whose banal assemblage of whodunit cliches, trite motivations and de rigueur lectures on autism kill you slowly and painfully.

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