Phone Booth

Phone Booth

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

It's easy to knock Hollywood. Watch teenage comedies for a couple of days and feel your brain shrink. Joel Schumacher is from a different stable. Despite starting out as a costume designer, he understands the importance of the image.

Phone Booth is quintessential New York - filmed in New Orleans - lippy, scammin', aggressive, sweaty, exciting, sexy and frenetic. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who worked with Schumacher and Colin Farrell on Tigerland, uses four cameras to capture the speed and tension of a desperate stand-off in the centre of the city, surrounded by a crush of humanity and the ever-insitant stare of television's intrusive eye.

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The film is anything but static, despite having as its plot device a man trapped in a phone booth by an unseen sniper, controlling the action with his high-powered rifle. Schumacher uses split screens and visual wizardry to retain a breakneck pace. Although location-based and gritty as a gunshot, there is never a moment when you are not aware that this is what movies are made of, the manipulation of emotion by artificial means.

Stu Shepard (Farrell) is a publicist, juggling calls on cell phones, living off lies, mainlining adrenaline to make things happen, applying pressure to those who don't trust him. Every morning around noon, he stops at the last phone booth in Manhattan to sweet talk an actress (Katie Holmes) he plans on seducing, so that his wife (Radha Mitchell) won't find out, if she checks his itemised bills.

This time, it's different. The phone rings and Stu picks it up and a voice that sounds suspiciously like that of an actor who has spent too long in the horror zone, starts talking to him, as if he knows his every thought and desire. Stu tells him to get lost, but when he sees the rifle's little red dot dancing over his chest, he doesn't hang up.

Farrell gives an entirely believable performance. Even his Bronx accent scatter-raps through clenched teeth with the right inflection of guerilla panic. Forest Whitaker, as the cop in charge of quelling the disturbance, is equally convincing, although the encounter itself less so. The sniper appears all-knowing and all-clever, as fictional serial killers often are. His motive for such a carfully planned midday hostage situation can only be explained by using Hannibal Lecter's twisted logic. Nutters of New York unite! Here comes Charlie.

Standing back from Schumacher's dazzling display of cinematic conjuring tricks, you wonder whether an unshaven rat of a PR fixer, holed out in a telephone box with nothing but his quick mouth to defend himself, is worth a platoon of NYPD sharpshooters and a street-load of media hacks. Al Pacino wasn't given such a reception in Dog Day Afternoon, when he was threatening to kill a dozen bank employees after a botched hold up.

Reviewed on: 17 Apr 2003
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Phone Booth packshot
Colin Farrell is trapped in a New York telephone box by a mysterious sniper.
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Jennie Kermode **

Director: Joel Schumacher

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes, Paula Jai Parker, Arian Waring Ash, Tia Texada, John Enos III, Richard T. Jones, Keith Nobbs, Kiefer Sutherland

Year: 2002

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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