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TSM Movie Review: Phone Booth, April 13, 2003
Guest_TSMAdmin_*
post Jun 19 2003, 04:02 PM
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PHONE BOOTH

Starring Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, and Forest Whitaker
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Larry Cohen
Released by 20th Century Fox; Rated R; 80 minutes


Suspenseful from ten minutes in all the way to its hectic conclusion, Phone Booth is a very solid movie that could have taken the turn into the spectacular.

Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a publicist with a rampant ego and cheap Italian suit who dismisses everyone around him as if they were lower life forms. He has gotten into a routine: forgoing his cell phone for an 8th Avenue phone booth to call his mistress, Pam (Katie Holmes, who doesn’t get enough screen time), so that his wife, Kelly (Radha Mitchell), doesn’t see the call on his bill. After hanging up with Pam, the pay phone rings, so Stu answers it, setting the whole movie in motion.

The Caller (Kiefer Sutherland, who isn’t glimpsed until the last minute of the movie) makes it obvious to Stu right away that he knows who he is and what he’s trying to hide. A well-written exchange with three prostitutes and their pimp leaves the pimp dead from The Caller’s sniper rifle. The police arrive on the scene and immediately finger Stu as the suspect, based on the frantic testimony of the hookers. Captain Ramey (Forest Whitaker) takes the lead in negotiating with Stu, who can neither leave the phone booth nor tell Ramey what’s really going on, under threat of death. Stu eventually figures out The Caller’s game and grows the spine he’d been lacking throughout the rest of the movie, but I’ll say nothing about the final fate of the characters.

Colin Farrell played an excellent scoundrel in Stu Shepard, a man so used to lying and dismissing everyone that he has a hard time being honest when his life is on the line. Stu is something of an anti-hero, and while he’s not someone an audience would root for under normal circumstances, he’s clearly cast as the sympathetic character in Phone Booth. His panic is obvious as the pimp is gunned down right in front of him; his terror is obvious when he knows The Caller has his gun trained on the people he cares about; his relieved humiliation is obvious when he confesses what a cad he is with all of New York City watching.

Though he does only voice work for 95% of the film, Kiefer Sutherland is superb as The Caller. His tone and vocal inflections are perfect for every scenario. He patronizes Stu when it’s appropriate, yells at him in his weaker moments, and his contempt for people like Ramey is evident in every syllable he utters when the captain is on-screen. Oft-underrated Forest Whitaker was certainly effective as Ramey, but the part didn’t require anything that many other actors couldn’t have delivered.

Phone Booth misses out on being great, though, by squandering an important opportunity. The story had a chance to be an epic (albeit a brief one): an anti-hero trapped in an homage to the past, staring out at the high-technology wasteland which now surrounds and imprisons him. There’s a lot of potential there, but the story fails to capitalize on it. Instead, Phone Booth becomes about the machinations of one man to lure another into a Catholic confession, turning the phone booth into a simple confessional instead of a metaphor for the enslaving powers of technology. Farrell’s on-screen breakdown is both written and acted well, at least – and it should be, considering the opportunity that was passed over to present it.

Despite dropping the ball at an important juncture, Phone Booth is still a solid, suspenseful movie. The dramatic tension builds well, helped out by great performances from Farrell and Sutherland. The dénouement is set up nicely, with two effective twists in the grand resolution. In the end, Phone Booth is a tense and entertaining way to spend part of an afternoon, making it better than a lot of its present competition. 7/10

Dr. Tom
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