Director David Fincher loves two aspects when he makes film; visually stunning cinematography and stories with unpredictable twists. With his latest offering, Panic Room, he manages one but nearly misses the other, as it is not as unpredictable as The Game, Se7en or Fight Club. It does have the stunning visuals that show that Fincher and his two cinematographers, Conrad Hall and Dariusz Khondji have managed to excel themselves.
For those unfamiliar with the story of Panic Room; recently divorced Meg (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sara (Kristen Stewart) move into an expansive town house in Manhattan. The house is far too big for just the two of them, but a key feature is the panic room, which is an eight-foot room, annexed off the master bedroom where the security systems and supplies are all housed within thick steel and solid concrete.
Unfortunately within their first night, a trio of burglars break into the house; Burnham (the under-rated Forrest Whitaker), a man trapped in a custody battle in need of money and quick, Junior (Jared Leto) a waster with inside knowledge on the prize they are after and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) who’s been brought along because Junior thinks he’s tough. Unfortunately Raoul is an unknown entity and therefore very unpredictable.
When Meg is woken by the sound of the trio breaking in (they didn’t expect anyone to have moved in already and thought the house was still empty) she grabs Sara and they only just make it into the Panic Room. To make things worse, the prize that the burglars are after is hidden within the walls of the Panic Room. With the mother and daughter trapped inside and the criminals trapped outside, a tense game develops as one party tries to find ways in and the other party tries to protect themselves. With cameras all round the house, Meg and Sara can watch the attempts to break into the room, matters are then further worsened as it transpires that Burnham used to install panic rooms for rich clients and therefore has the knowledge to work out a weakness.
Racing against time, Burnham and accomplices try to work out how to get into the room while Meg and Sara attempt to either escape from the room or summon help.
Thankfully Nichole Kidman was pulled from the leading role due to an ankle injury, as Jodie Foster portrays Meg in a fashion that Kidman couldn’t have put across. She’s much more suited to these sorts of roles, with a performance that projects more toughness and more of a ‘real’ persona than Kidman could have done. Kristen Stewart is good as Sara, even if I didn’t realise she was a girl till further into the film (hey, it was late in my defence - I must be getting old when all teenagers start looking the same). Leto is okay as Junior, with a better role than normal for him. Yoakam goes from a calm and nonchalant individual to a raging animal very well, but no one can match Forrest Whitaker. He’s always been a great character actor and personally he deserves a lot more recognition than he’s had. Here he shows us a side to Burnham that not only is human but also has the audiences sympathies as the reluctant specialist.
As mentioned before the cinematography is superb, with the camera panning in one long shot from the upstairs bedroom, snakes down four floors, through a key hole (being picked at the time), around the ground floor while looking through the windows and finally back upstairs again. Not only is it nifty, but also the camera travels through the gaps in the banisters during the film giving some brilliant visuals. It’s a true work of art.
As expected with a David Fincher film, many titbits of information are given, but a lot are ignored later. Some might say that its weak writing, but in the hands of Fincher it keeps the film taut as the audience expects something to become an issue later but it doesn’t. Speaking of the script, one of the successes of it is that it shows that the both parties have intelligence and logic. The thieves are not experts, but they are not stupid either as they find ways to threaten Meg and Sara from the other side of the steel and concrete. Also Meg and Sara thwart their attempts in creative ways.
Panic Room is a taut and excellent thriller. Some might says its weaker than Fight Club or the under rated The Game, but it is no slouch. It shows film making as a craftsmanship and is a well-executed film. Its extremely suspenseful and will keep the audience on the edge of their chairs. It will probably grace the film charts for sometime.
Personally I would have used the Panic Room against Jehovah Witnesses (not that they come round anymore, after my “I love you guys, you make my favourite biscuits” comment). I’m off to convert our en-suite, now where did I leave that steel and concrete?
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