Phone Booth (2003)
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Review Date: March 31, 2003
Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Larry Cohen
Producers: David Zucker, Gil Netter
Colin Farrell as Stu
Forest Whitaker as Capt. Ramsey
Kiefer Sutherland as The Caller
A fast-talking publicist spontaneously picks up a ringing street phone and suddenly finds himself on the line with a lunatic who knows all kinds of personal bits about him and who purports to have a rifle aimed at his head right then and there. The catch? The caller says that if he hangs up, he will shoot him dead. It's basically like SPEED, but instead of a bus...it's a phone. Well, okay...maybe that's not the best analogy, but you catch my drift. A very long phone conversation ensues...
An entertaining 80-odd minute thriller that actually manages to hold you deep within its grasp despite the fact that most of it takes place in a friggin' phone booth! That's right, almost the entire picture runs its course with a certain Colin Farrell on the horn with a psychopath, while the viewer essentially cruises along for the ride. The biggest props for making that work have to go out to the drunken Irishman himself, who doesn't only provide for a well-rounded characterization, but also sold me on his New Yawk accent. The film starts off with his character as cocky and confident as can be, but as it ticks forward, you really get a sense of his growing insecurities coming to the fore, his desperation seeping out and his greatest fears ultimately coming to fruition. An excellent performance by Farrell, who continues to live up to his hype and single-handedly carries this picture. Actually, scratch that...I don't mind busting someone's balls when they deserve it (Schumacher and his BATMAN debacles), but I consider myself to be fair and objective enough to deliver credit when credit is due as well, and director Joel Schumacher seems to have found his way back into the "competence" chair with this film, utilizing a plethora of techniques which don't just bring you along for the trip, but really give you the sense of being in the heart of this very chaotic New York circumstance. Major kudos also go out to him for "discovering" Farrell in TIGERLAND in the first place, and for having the good sense to hire him again here. Being that this is not a typically arced storyline (the usual 3 acts are replaced by 1 act essentially), it would also have been very easy for it to fall into a set pattern, but this film keeps you guessing all the way through, provides just enough time for you to bite your nails along the way, and even drops a couple of surprises into the mix.

Another actor who helps solidify the film's success is Forest Whitaker who plays the vulnerable, honest police negotiator as only Mr. Whitaker could. Sutherland's creepy voice is also ideal for the sniper (Ron Eldard's initial voicing was scrapped for Kiefer's), even though he does sound like he's in a soundstage somewhere. On the downside, once everything was said and done, I didn't think that the "motivation" behind the premise or the choice of Farrell's character was satisfactorily explained (although things move along so fast during the movie, that much like myself, you might not mind...until afterwards), and I especially didn't think the ending was as powerful as it could have been, considering the strenuous circumstances up to that point (it was predictable as well). The final "encounter" was also a plot convention that felt illogical looking back. The film does move along at a breakneck pace though and is consistently engaging, despite a couple of very small moments of redundancy (too small to even mention?) The film, however, is no DOG DAY AFTERNOON in terms of sheer suspense, humor and complete story, but definitely keeps you glued to your seat with various points of tension and laughs, and if nothing else, an incredible performance by Farrell, who if you really sit down and think about it, had to maintain his realistic sense of fear, desperation and frustration throughout the entire shoot of the film, which was over a period of 12 days in Los Angeles (natch). That's quite an accomplishment in my eyes and a definite early candidate for best actor of this year. It's also to note that if you do plan on seeing this movie, you might want to strongly consider peeing beforehand because once things gets going...there are no real stoppages until the end credits. A solid thriller.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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