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Review: Phone Booth (2002)

Phone Booth (2002)

Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Premise: A publicist (Colin Farrell) finds himself held hostage in a telephone booth under the threat of a sniper. 

What Works: As fun as elaborate action pictures and complex mysteries can be, movies that are stripped down and impose limitations on the story and the filmmaking style can result in creative works that stand out in the movie marketplace. Phone Booth is such a film. This picture dramatizes a novel idea of a man trapped in a phone booth with a sniper taunting him over the line and setting him up for a fall. After a brief introduction, the action begins with a publicist answering an anonymous phone call in a public phone booth and finds himself ensnared in the plot of a madman. This picture benefits from the public setting and the filmmakers are able to use the variables of a public place to complicate the story. As Farrell’s character monopolizes the phone booth he attracts the angry attention of others who want to use the phone and the film effectively provides simultaneous conflicts as the publicist must cope with threats on the phone and from outside the booth. After the sniper shoots down a member of the public, the police surround the booth, thinking the hero is a killer, and the film builds very effectively. As the situation becomes increasingly dire, Colin Farrell’s character reaches a breaking point and the extent to which this film is able to push the protaganist is impressive and gives the movie a sense of dramatic shape even though most of the events are limited to a city street. The threat of the film is heightened by the casting of Kiefer Sutherland as the sniper. Although Sutherland does not appear on camera for the bulk of the picture he does make a strong impression. Phone Booth has an obvious sadomasochistic aspect about it and Sutherland’s voiceover performance brings that out. The shooter is made all the more villainous because he is given a sense of humor. The film is surprisingly witty but in a way that is threatening and enhances the tension instead of diffusing it. Phone Booth is also impressive in its production design. The film takes place in real time, which requires the continuity of the set dressing and screen direction to be perfect, which it generally is.

What Doesn’t: Phone Booth was released in 2002 and it has notably dated in the twelve years since its premiere. The film was made at the very end of the public payphone era and looking at the picture now the very idea of a full size telephone booth comes across as anachronistic. Other aspects of the film, especially its use of technology, are very much of 2002, impacting the way in which it plays for a contemporary audience. The movie frontloads the picture with an introduction that lists various facts about cellphone usage. Even in 2002 this exposition was pretentious and in 2014 the introduction just sounds silly and irrelevant. Some other aspects of the film have dated as well, in particular the elaborate computer generated imagery of circuitry and satellites. Phone Booth stars Colin Farrell in the lead role and Farrell does a good job but he plays the part with an east coast accent that is not entirely convincing, especially when he is required to raise his voice. Some of this may be due to the audience’s familiarity with Farrell’s normally Irish voice, and it sounds strange to hear a Bronx accent coming out of his mouth. Like a lot of films with this kind of novel premise such as Grand Piano and The Call, the finale of Phone Booth is unable to be entirely satisfying. The filmmakers corner themselves with their concept although to their credit they do not abandon it in the ending the way some other films of this type are prone to do. 

DVD extras: Commentary track, trailers.

Bottom Line: Phone Booth is a well-made thriller with a great concept that is well executed. However it may have dated, the core conceit of the movie holds up and the picture builds so well and is so involving that its anachronisms are overcome.

Episode: #482 (March 16, 2014)