20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 77 mins .
M15+ . PAL
An annoying thing happened to the thriller genre on the way to the 21st century. Save for the odd very rare example of originality here and there it became generic, hackneyed, overly reliant on technology at the expense of plot and – worst of all – predictable. Phone Booth is a gloriously gripping thriller which does everything a good entrant into the genre should do; it entertains, it enthrals and it surprises.
A study of cool New Yorkers (?)
Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a fast-talking, bullshit-dribbling New York publicist (perhaps that’s the only kind?) who only cares about himself – or anybody who can do something for him. Despite ambling about town with a mobile phone almost permanently affixed to his ear, like clockwork he stops off each day at that antiquated concept known as the phone booth – apparently the city’s only surviving one – to make a call. No, it’s not an admirable sense of history at play, rather a fear of his wife finding incriminating numbers on his mobile bill, for he’s calling a young starlet that he fancies as a potential bonkubine. Then one day his predictable cycle reveals its downside…
It all starts with a seemingly errant pizza delivery to the booth while Stu is flagrantly disregarding his wedding vows. In typically arrogant and dismissive fashion, he gives the delivery guy short shrift. Then the phone trills out – and a ringing phone has to be answered, doesn’t it?
On the other end of the line is one out-there puppy of a mystery caller who, it soon transpires, has a teensy-weensy problem with those arrogant, lying, arsehole types the world is so full of. How much of a problem? Try a high-powered, silencer-equipped rifle with one of those sight thingies that focuses a little red dot on whatever – or whoever – it’s pointed at - and it’s pointed at Stu. The rules of his little game soon become apparent, if Stu hangs up, calls for help or generally just doesn’t play compliant little puppet to the caller’s string pulling then KABLOOEY! He’s a dead man.
An eventual circus unfolds, with cops – including the traditional, understanding good stick Captain (Forest Whitaker without enough to really get his teeth into) – SWAT teams, helicopters, news crews, “interested onlookers”, Stu’s wife (Radha Mitchell) and the object of his roving eye (Katie Holmes) all clogging the street around Stu’s coin-operated prison. But, thanks to all Mr Snipery-Snipe-Snipe’s rules, none of them really know what’s actually going down…
Smile, you're on Candid Sniper!
Joel Schumacher has attracted more than his fair share of shit in his time as a director, and considering some of the stuff he’s been involved in it is little wonder. Here, however, writer Larry Cohen’s handed him a script that started life decades ago as an offering for the masterful Alfred Hitchcock (but which only really came together in recent years) and he makes an incredibly slick, tense and exciting fist of it. Taking a familiar cue for the sniper’s role from previous Schumacher outing Falling Down - notably one man’s mad-as-hell-not-gonna-take-it-blahblahblah-so-I’m-gonna-play-public-conscience deal – the similarities soon taper off, into what is more of an exploration of that which lies behind the defensive wall of obfuscation Stu’s constructed around himself and his path to a form of enforced redemption, rather than a study of another traditional psycho bad guy.
The frenetic, technological-overload introductory passage to Phone Booth is, mercifully, a bit of a furphy, in fact it’s almost the antithesis of the bulk of the film which relies on its one location and a whole lot of tension to get things over the line – which it does admirably in the not-too-short, not-too-long time of 77 minutes with credits. It’s easy to see why Farrell has been getting such good press for his acting abilities – his tense effort here indicates he’s definitely more than just another pretty boy – while the generally quite rational for a nutball voice of Kiefer Sutherland still manages to drip with enough understated menace to have all but the most cynical of viewers hooked into this captivating thriller in no time.
No matter which way you look at it, Stu's screwed...
While the story itself may be somewhat claustrophobic, the vision certainly isn’t, splattered lovingly all over a 2.35:1 frame (16:9 enhanced). Superb use has been made of the screen real estate available, as picture-in-picture and split screen effects dance about regularly and those in the world around the booth do their stuff. After all, a phone box hardly fills such a wide frame. Hmm, they could always have shot it sideways…
Onto the picture as it comes to DVD, and it’s pretty good, reflecting the rather subdued, just the facts ma’am hues of New York where appropriate (even though it was for the most part shot in LA – shush!) and gunning the colour when needed for many of the picture-in-picture moments. A reasonably clear picture is offered throughout, although small washes of grain do pop up at certain times, generally with an air of “these are here intentionally” about them. While it’s not the sharpest Stanley knife in the toolbox visually, it’s certainly detailed enough and manages to avoid anything worth noting in the aliasing department. With the non-stop nature of proceedings layer change placement was always a potential problem, and as it’s been plonked in the midst of a scene where it’s more noticeable than a bullet wound on a white dress it seems somebody just may have given up and blindly plopped it wherever it happened to land. Still, it does hobble by reasonably quickly.
I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. Honestly, I'm so f...
Naturally, being a fairly recent Hollywood film, we get Dolby Digital 5.1 audio – whether it’s needed or not. Apart from the film being topped and tailed with a modicum of oomphy action, little save for some slight Manhattan ambience seeps from the rears otherwise, while the subwoofwoof peacefully slumbers throughout. The majority of aural action emanates from the front soundstage, however this isn’t to say it’s a pedestrian mix, for much directional pushing and pulling has been employed to add a bit of a sonic wow-factor; if an inset screen appears on the left, so does the corresponding voice, and if it shooms across to the right, again so does the voice. Importantly all is synched properly, while even more importantly dialogue is clear and easily understood. The minimal amounts of music employed work well, and three cheers for utilising DJ Shadow’s hauntingly catchy Six Days over the end credits.
Animated menus that sum up the film’s stressed-out vibe quite succinctly lead to little in the way of extras, although we do score something those in Region 1 missed out on. This is an almost half-hour (28:15 to be more precise about it) documentary which straddles that thin line between being interesting and simply another piece of promotional bellybutton fluff reasonably well, especially with its inclusion of much behind the scenes footage after a more EPK-styled opening.
The only other bonus inclusion is a commentary from Joel Schumacher. He’s certainly an entertaining guy to listen to as he ducks and dives into all manner of everything involved with the production of Phone Booth, although his completely over-the-top affection for Mr Spunky-Pants Farrell starts to grate very quickly.
It seems we miss out on the trailer, which will likely be no biggie to most.
Combining the best of Schumacher’s visual and pacing skills with a script that features both innovation and a modicum of valuable social commentary, Phone Booth offers genuine bum-glued-to-couch entertainment for its duration.
As for the DVD, video and sound scrub up well enough, although the paltry extras package may disappoint some.
A treat for those thriller aficionados who’ve been let down so many times in recent years, with any luck it may also remind a few of those people who need such prods about the importance of respect for their fellow humans.
So remember, if a complete stranger suddenly gives you pizza... it just may be a good idea to be gracious about it.
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "