Phone Booth - movie review (April 5, 2003)

Colin Farrell plays Stuart Shephard, a man who relies heavily on lies to make a living and in his personal life.  One day, however, he is made to confront those lies by a stranger who acts as a sort of vengeance guardian angel.  Today's lesson:  don't answer the ringing telephone if you don't know who's on the other side.

I've been looking forward to seeing this film since last year when I first saw the trailer, but the film's mid-November release date was postponed in the wake of the sniper killings in the Washington, D.C. area.  The film isn't very long, running only 80 minutes, but given the set-up of the film, those 80 minutes don’t seem short at all.  Most of the film is set in and around a full telephone booth (with closing doors even) in New York City's metropolitan area.  The film makes one claustrophobic and dangerously aware of the open spaces, both at the same time.  This film isn't so much about an involved plotline as it is a character study.

Colin Farrell ("Tigerland", "Hart's War", "The Recruit", "Daredevil" and the upcoming screen version of "S.W.A.T.") is terrific in this film.  I'd first noticed him in "Minority Report" and thought he did a terrific job.  In this film, he is the main focus, and much of his acting is played opposite the person on the other end of the telephone.  He is compelling to watch, a necessity as for much of the time, he is the only person on screen.

Kiefer Sutherland ("The Lost Boys", "Flatliners", television's "24") also does a great job in this film, though his performance is almost literally phoned in.  As the caller on the other end of the phone, he mixes good batches of calm, rage, humour and deadly seriousness.

Forest Whitaker ("Good Morning, Vietnam", "The Crying Game", "Panic Room" and host of TV's current "The Twilight Zone") does an excellent job as Captain Ramey, the police officer trying to unravel the puzzle of the situation.

Katie Holmes (TV's "Dawson's Creek") has a minor part as an acquaintance of Stuart's.

I thought the script was quite good, mixing various emotions and feelings, making the audience tense with the action and then giving them a relief, but it never becomes boring.  And in this case, director Joel Schumacher did a good job.  I particularly dislike him as a director, and so many overwhelming circumstances accounted for my wanting to see a picture directed by him, but I'll give him a pass on this one.  Doesn't mean I'll jump to see any future films by him though.

While I think the film stands fine on its own, it's a particular treat to fans of the current television show "24".  Some of the filmmaking choices are reminiscent of that film, and any "24" fan will immediately recognize Kiefer Sutherland's voiceover.  I almost expected him to say, "You've just answered the telephone, and this is going to be the longest day of your life."

A definite recommend.


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