Phone Booth

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner7/04/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 82 mins

Fast-paced, impressively claustrophobic thriller with a great performance from Colin Farrell.

The posters for Phone Booth proudly proclaim “Joel Schumacher – back on blistering form!” Now, given that Joel ‘Bad Company’ Schumacher has only made maybe two decent films (Falling Down, Tigerland, Flatliners if you’re feeling generous), you could be forgiven for taking that with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Add that to the fact that, as you may have heard, ‘the entire film is set in a phone booth, in real time’ and Phone Booth starts to look like a distinctly unappetising prospect. (It also gained an extra unpleasant dimension after the ‘Washington Snipers’, which resulted in it being delayed for a while). Surprisingly, however, it’s enormous fun, thanks to a combination of a taut, witty script, a great central performance and, yes, impressive direction.

Covert Call Gone Wrong

Rising Star Colin Farrell plays New York publicist Stewart "Stu" Shepherd. (He answers his phone with "You've got Stu!"). He lies for a living and isn't exactly a success - his clients mostly consist of Eminem wannabes etc. Anyway, despite being married to the rather lovely Radha Mitchell, he's in the habit of making a phone-call - from a payphone, so his wife can't check his mobile - to Pretty Young Wannabe Actress Katie Holmes every day at the same time, even though, crucially, he hasn’t slept with her yet.

So, there he is, in his phone box and he gets a call from someone who seems to know an awful lot about him. At first he thinks it's someone he knows (a failed actor?) playing mind-games, but he quickly realises that the caller is a sniper with a rifle aimed straight at him…

Naturally, after the sniper shoots someone, the cops turn up, and, thanks to the sniper, so do Mitchell and Holmes. (The trailer, unforgivably, gives away far too much about the later parts of the film, which is a shame, as the twists are very good).

Colin Farrell Sweats Like A Pig

Farrell is excellent, giving what is his best performance to date - he sweats like a pig throughout the entire thing (though he must have nuclear strength deodorant because his shirt remains pristine throughout) and he's believably panicked as the whole thing escalates. He also comfortably nails the Brooklyn accent.

The supporting cast are good too - Forrest Whittaker is the cop with troubles of his own, Katie Holmes and Radha Mitchell are on hand for eye candy reasons and Kiefer Sutherland is excellent as The Voice Of The Sniper (it’s like Jack Bauer Gone Mental).

The script, by ‘B’ movie genius Larry Cohen, is superb. One of the nicest touches is that we never find out what makes the sniper tick and the film makes this one of its blackest jokes, with Sutherland repeatedly saying things like 'That reminds me of Vietnam', 'You never notice people like me' or - the best one - 'Now you're sounding like MY MOTHER!', only for him to start laughing when Farrell buys it.

The only annoying note is that, although for the most part the script is really sharp - Farrell is refreshingly un-heroic, for example - the reasons behind just why he’s been targeted are desperately mundane (Cohen, clearly, really hates his publicist). This means that the climax of the film doesn't really work because Farrell doesn't particularly deserve what happens to him.

At any rate, the film benefits enormously from a snappy running time (a mere 82 minutes) and Schumacher throws in some neat visual trickery (multiple split-screen for example) to keep it interesting, as well as continually upping the stakes, tension-wise. Similarly, the ending is not at all typical and - for once - doesn't smack of reshoots and test screenings, although you may find yourself wondering just how much of what happens was actually part of Kiefer’s Master Plan…

In short, it's well-made and well-acted, and has some genuine surprises. However, it bears no relation to the short Spanish horror film (Cabina) that inspired it. Apart from the phone box, that is. Recommended.

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Content updated: 27/02/2020 00:16

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