Phone Booth (2002)


Director:  Joel Schumacher
Cast:  Colin FarrellKiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes
Plot:  Stuart Shepard finds himself trapped in a phone booth, pinned down by an extortionist's sniper rifle.

Genre:  Thriller

Awards:  -
Runtime:  81min
Rating:  NC16 for pervasive language and some violence.


This guy is getting on my nerves.

A precursor to films like Buried (2010), where the lead character spends the entire film in a wooden coffin that is buried deep underground, Phone Booth has Colin Farrell's character stuck in a phone booth in downtown New York.  While that is definitely a much better fate, the film constantly reminds us that a scheming sniper is nearby with his high-powered rifle cocked.

Penned by Larry Cohen, who also devised a loosely-similar story in Cellular (2004), the conceptual idea behind Phone Booth was once made known by the writer to Alfred Hitchcock in the 1960s, but the great master declined to direct.  

Four decades on, Joel Schumacher takes up the hot seat.  While not exactly inspiring moviegoers' confidence in his ability to helm a blockbuster after failures like Batman and Robin (1997) and Bad Company (2002), Schumacher responds by making Phone Booth one of his better films in his resume to date.

It is by no means a great entry into the suspense-thriller genre,  but Phone Booth remains to be entertaining while it lasts.  Entirely driven by dialogue, and with loads of coarse language to boot, the film sees Farrell giving one of his best singular performances in a mainstream Hollywood picture. 

His character is developed quite substantially, not only through his interactions with his tormentor, but more interestingly, by how he reacts to an assortment of dilemmas that are thrown at him.

Matthew Libatique's cinematography is flashy and dazzling at times, somewhat reminding of his in-your-face, free-styling work that was brilliantly executed in Darren Aronofsky's Pi (1998) and Requiem for a Dream (2000).  He employs a number of low-angle shots on Farrell and the phone booth, as if trying to create a feeling equivalent to some kind of street surveillance.

The editing also pushes into effect a sense of immediacy and urgency to some of the scenes with the apt use of smaller split-screen frames that show, for instance, a character speaking on the other side of a real-time telephone conversation. 

The entire experience of watching Phone Booth becomes a lesson in pertinent issues regarding invasions of privacy and broadcast ethics.  If only the film had been more consistently suspenseful (there are some parts where the tension weakens), then it would be something more than half-decent.

Verdict:  This high-concept film features some sharp dialogue and freewheeling camerawork, but still falls short on being a consistent high-tensioner. 

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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