There is an annoying little gimmick used in many predictable movies, where the perpetrator tells his intended victim everything before he does away with him. It's usually during these talking moments that the hero figures a way out of the mess and succeeds in outwitting his opponent. Now, imagine the same setup, stretched over a dizzyingly rapid 80 minutes, with the lead stuck in a phone booth and the killer lurking from an apartment balcony unbeknownst to those below him, and you will have a fair idea of what phone booth is all about.
Anchored by a potent performance by the relatively new Colin Farrell and the spellbindingly authoritative command of the concealed killer (Kiefer Sutherland), the new movie by the once ebbing Joel Shumacher, finds the right tone between taut thriller and tidy mystery. Farrell plays Stu Shepherd, an arrogant, laconic, hip New Yorker, who leads a fast life and is dictated by a faster mouth. His profession as a publicist, assures him of constantly rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, so much so that everything and everyone else is treated with nonchalant disregard.
Lying and bluffing are an everyday trait and the line between them is blurry. We see him first lie to his mistress about helping her nail a career as an aspiring actress and then to his wife about his mistress.
The movie traces one day in the life of Stu, when he steps into a booth, which is destined to be torn down the following day we are told, and places a call to Pam (Katie Holmes), his mistress. On concluding his conversation, he receives a call from an anonymous madman, who at first seems annoying, then vaguely perturbed by Stu's actions, and finally assumes himself to be the one who can redeem Stu from his dishonest, decadent life. During the course of the conversation his caller's tone metamorphoses from amicable to irksome and ultimately, in a bizarre yet riveting twist, to threatening. A helpless Stu is thus reduced to pleading for his life when the caller is revealed to be a sniper with a gun aimed at him. Soon the local police (lead by the formidable Forrest Whitaker) are at the scene to contain the situation, as the inevitable media frenzy is birthed in the process.
As the literally central character, Colin Farrell gives what is at once a star making performance. If you missed him in 'Minority Report' or weren't aware of him in 'Daredevil', then you will surely notice him now. Everything from his New York mannerisms to his bemused character are utterly believable. As an audience we feel equally manipulated and helpless, and that is in part due to Farrell's hypnotic characterization. In what is a cinematic rarity, Farrell finds himself with the daunting task of occupying every single frame of the film, from its opening moments through to its satisfying finish. It's also interesting to note that none of the other characters ever distract, they exist simply as catalysts to drive the plot to its intended finish line.
The prudent Schumacher returns to apt form as a director. His faith in reuniting with Farrell, whom he introduced to the world in the war drama 'Tigerland', proves fruitful. That a simple script about a man trapped in a booth listening to a threatening caller sustains our interest for as long as it does is an achievement for the director. This is a hostage movie with a single hostage and an absentee transgressor.
Does the caller have a point? Well, does it matter?
Is it entertaining? Hell yes!
To pen a review without giving special praise to the hidden gem that is Sutherland would be a gross injustice. Having the upper hand throughout most of the short running time, he never falters in tone, or his constant clamour to rid the streets of people like Stu. He relishes his opportunity to play both judge and jury to a helpless victim seen through the scope of a rifle. The link between urban paranoia and the loss of privacy in an increasingly wired world is adequately addressed via Sutherland's comments. His is a vivid and scathing criticism of what many are ashamed to admit today. It isn't about being either right or wrong, but about the acknowledgement of the decay of everyday society, and the break neck speed with which our lives have accepted the traits of lack of concentration and shortening attention spans.
In the end, some may complain of feeling let down by the final act, owing to the trend established today by much weaker films whereby only those closing acts that pull the rug from under our feet with a sudden and surprisingly revelational jolt are considered reasonably good. I urge all those who think that way to imagine a conclusion where a deliberate link was established to provide some forced resonance between the acts that had transpired to maximize the shock value. That would have been both easier and less tactful, at the same time being equally short on impact. In its present form, 'phone booth' concludes quite appropriately and stays in tune to its theme of addressing the weaknesses of a stunningly and ever increasingly overworked world. - Faizan Rashid