Phone Booth

Phone Booth
Phone Booth
Buy This Double-sided poster At

The plot in a nutshell
Stu is a sleazy guy.  He's in public relations, so I suppose that goes without saying, but he wheels and deals and spins and lies and everyone turns out happy.  He wears Italian suits and expensive shoes, and is overtly flirting with one of the more attractive young actresses looking for his help in the business.  And yes, he's married.

Every day he calls her from a particular phone booth.  The new girl, not his wife.  And then one day, after making his usual phone call, the phone rings and his life is altered.  Trapped in the phone booth by a sniper, unable to tell anyone the exact nature of his predicament, he is forced to realize the folly of his lies and confront them for all the world to see.

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
Colin Farrell, starring as Stu Shepard, has a hell of a tough job here.  This is a story written entirely around him, and his reactions to the situation.  While there are other actors involved, most notably Kiefer Sutherland as the voice of the sniper, they are all just background to his character.  Farrell has to carry the film fully on his shoulders, and he does an excellent job.

That's not to ignore Sutherland, who I think is one of the greatest under-rated actors working today.  He was the perfect choice for the sniper, although he was a late replacement.  And I can't talk about this film without mentioning Joel Schumacher, perhaps my least favorite director of all time.  It's not because he's consistently bad, and I have enjoyed films like 8MM, Falling Down and Flatliners.  But he was the man to ruin the Batman franchise with the final two God awful films, and I pray he never gets near that license again.  I've not yet forgiven him, but at least he does a decent job here providing very solid tension during the first 20 minutes or so.  Unfortunately the air goes out of the film about the time the cops show up, and after that it's pretty much standard fare.

This was a tough film to do, considering the constrained location, heavy dependence on a single actor, and difficulty in maintaining tension over a long period.  Probably the biggest weakness of the entire movie is the lack of real moral issues for Stu.  He's not really such a bad guy, and that means you never really connect with the sniper's plan.  Sure, Stu isn't Mother Teresa, but other than doing his job - which he does pretty well - and cheating on his wife in mind, but not body (yet), he's an average joe.  Now I realize that they did this to make him more identifiable to the viewer and allow you to sympathize with his plight, but it takes all the bite out of the sniper's speeches.

Colin Farrell has to run the full range of emotions, from incredulous to swaggering, from terrified to lost.  He's the big winner here, and after this film is definitely a bankable star.  The movie works best as a show piece for his acting, but falls apart on story and intent.

Rating - Rent It
I wouldn't rush out to see this at the theater - save yourself a few bucks and wait for the rental.  It's worth seeing for Farrell's performance, and to hear Sutherland's perfectly spooky voice.  It also has a great line that I'll be using to describe people climbing the corporate ladder - "The higher the monkey climbs, the more of his ass you see."

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
There's some stuff here that is definitely spoiler material, so don't read on if you haven't seen the film.  Unless you don't mind knowing plot points and resolutions in advance...







Most of the plot hangs together fairly well.  I thought that the shooting of the pimp made perfect sense to set up Stu, and much more than the general shooting (with gun blast) that we heard in the previews for the film.  When I saw the preview, I wondered how anyone could be stupid enough to think he'd shot someone, but they handled that very well.  The only big problem I had with the plot was the resolution of the film, obvious as it was.

You knew from the start that Sutherland's character would escape.  I was also happy to see that we didn't get a bunch of back story on the sniper - you know absolutely nothing about him (remember, he even ends up saying he's not really even an actor) by the time the movie ends, other than that he has in his mind this purpose of killing off bad people.  But the use of the pizza delivery guy really left a big hole in the story.

As I recall - and I'll have to see the film again on video to be sure - there was very little time between when the pizza guy was at the phone booth, and when the sniper called Stu.   And yet in this time, he lured the delivery guy to the secondary room, kill him, and get back to where ever he was actually shooting from.

Why do I think that wasn't where the sniper was shooting from?  Well, first he was too bright to allow them to catch him that way.  He'd already set up his dead counterpart to be the fall guy, so why do that in the room he was actually using?  On top of that, we see Sutherland with the large suit case at the end, obviously carrying his rifle, but the room with the dead pizza guy in it also had a rifle on a tripod.  They were making it pretty clear that this location was separate, but they left very little time in there for all this to happen.

What exactly were the drugs for in the ambulance?  That got Stu pretty loopy, with blurred vision and all, and it seemed like they were giving him a general anesthetic almost.  Yet he'd only been shot with a rubber bullet - sure, it hurt, but none of his injuries really made much sense for him to be drugged up in the back of an ambulance.

Speaking of the rubber bullet, that was well executed.  They gave you a foreshadowing, showing you the cop loading the gun with it, but didn't make it overly obvious.  Not too heavy handed, and it played with your emotions at the end.

The film hinted at some things that it never really got into, like the previous death associated with the cop character played by Forest Whitaker.  I was never sure if that was supposed to be connected - perhaps one of the previous sniper victims - or just thrown in for a little short term tension between the cops.  To be effective it needed to be further explored, or never brought up in the first place.

Still, overall the plot holds together pretty well.  This isn't Academy Award writing, but the dialog and pacing were well done.  I've seen some reviewers seriously trashing the film, and as much as I dislike Schumacher, he doesn't deserve it here.

This page copyright 2003, Michael Crawford. All rights reserved. Hosted by 1 Hour