The biggest surprise of Phone Booth is the fact that the man who destroyed the Batman franchise manages to direct a tense and taut thriller – all without a rubber nipple in sight. Phone Booth was originally slated for a release back in November 2002, but after the sniper attacks in Washington DC, it was postponed a result. Now its finally released.
Stu Sheppard (Colin Farrell) is a young hotshot publicist in New York, who believes that he is on top of the world with his designer suits and luxury watch. He spends his time strutting around Manhattan with his assistant chasing his heals, while he lies on behalf and to his clients.
Stu also has a daily routine; everyday he visits a phone booth at 53rd and 8th street, from which he calls a pretty young actress, Pamela (Katie Holmes). Although he hasn’t done anything with Pamela, the reason Stu uses the phone booth is so that his wife, Kelly (Radha Mitchell) doesn’t see Pamela’s number on his phone bill.
One day after his daily call he replaces the pay phone back in the receiver and it suddenly rings again. Following the strange unwritten rule that a ringing phone must be answered, Stu picks it up and thus a nightmarish journey begins. The voice on the line, calm, soothing and intelligent, informs Stu that there is a high-powered sniper’s rifle pointing at him. The rules are simple – don’t hang up and don’t leave the booth.
After the sniper shoots another person on the street, Stu realises the true extent of danger that he is in and things take a turn for the worse when the police arrive. Captain Ed Ramey (Forest Whitaker) demands that Stu hangs up and leaves the booth – the one thing that he cannot do. Can Stu manage to avoid provoking the cops into shooting him and also survive the madman looking at him through a rifle scope?
Shown in real time, Phone Booth manages to build up and keep the tension through most of its 81 minutes running time. It’s a superb and simple premise – a man trapped in a phone booth and Joel Schumacher directs the film with the intelligence and skill that he showed with Falling Down and Tigerland. Phone Booth holds together surprisingly well whilst keeping the adrenaline levels fairly high.
The performances are great with Colin Farrell putting in another high-profile performance that shows why he has shot from obscurity to stardom in such a short time. The desperation of Stu is great to watch and seeing him go from cocksure and arrogant hotshot to the wide-eyed and desperate look of a trapped creature is superb. Farrell, although ably supported by the ever reliable Forest Whitaker, does carry the film. It is really a study of hysteria, both controlled and uncontrolled.
Kiefer Sunderland as the voice of the sniper does what is basically a radio performance, but does it really well. He cuts through the film like a grizzly voiced surgeon, dissecting Stu piece by piece. He has the prime bite at the script and baits Stu constantly with lines such as “That reminds me of Vietnam” or “Now you’re sounding like my mother” only to burst out laughing when Stu starts to believe him. One of the best touches is the simple fact that the motives of Kiefer’s sniper are never really revealed. Is he a vigilante or just a madman? He does lack the depth of John Doe from Se7en however.
The biggest negative aspect of the film is that reason why Stu has been targeted is desperately mundane. Granted he’s un-heroic, but there must be many much more deservedly of death than him.
Phone Booth has some good visuals such as multiple split-screens to keep an eye on many scenes at once and not loosing the real-time perspective. This coupled with the snappy running time, gives the film a real sense of claustrophobia. Overall a taut and entertaining thriller, Phone Booth, which was shot in 12 days, shows that sometimes CGI special effects & Hollywood hyped films can benefit from going back to basics.
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