Monday, April 07, 2003

Phone Booth (Isn't it funny - you hear a phone ringing and it could be anybody. A ringing phone has to be answered...doesn't it?)

Joel Schumacher returns to his Falling Down stomping ground and gives Colin Farrell a role with enough meat for a banquet. The premise is typically high-concept (Proof: High-Concept stalwart Michael Bay was interested in directing at one point) : A slick glib lying PR guy is trapped in a phone booth by a vigilante sniper who turns out to be a moralizer. Shot in less than a fortnight (in LA, doubling as NYC), the film's release was delayed by the real-life sniper threat in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D. C. The film does well as a morality tale and, as Schumacher was quoted as saying, "the primal fear we all share of a disembodied voice". The urban soundtrack from Gregson-Williams ably serves the claustrophobia of the piece. Aside from Schumacher, the other aspect of the film that worried me when I first caught a preview, was the presence of Forest Whitaker. This talented actor has been involved in some unbelievably obvious "strictly to pay the bills" movies, and that made me wary. However, he does a great job morphing his own personality and talent into the role of Captain Ramey, recovering from a failed marriage and post-therapy. With such a limited setup, the only thing the film can rely on is a script, the dialogue and the performances. Thankfully, this is not unfounded, making it another competent entry in the list of movies that explore the effect of media on the way we live and the way we think. The line that lingers most is one that I was quite surprised to find still in the film: As he is being grilled by the sniper and forced to come clean in public, Stu (Farrell) screams out: "I'm just part of a big cycle of lies. . . . I should be president!". Priceless.

The film is not without its problems though. The predictably metaphoric opening (juvenile graphics and a cheesy song) although mercifully short, is irritating. The surprise/shock ending seems like an add-on, although I found enough reasons to leave it in, and not dismiss it completely. The film employs MTV-esque editing and split screens (Brian de Palma still comes out tops on this one for me) to aid its pacing and at about 81 minutes, it's a good evening's watch. Wonder if this is the Psycho for phone booths...

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