Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes, Kiefer Sutherland
Rated: R for pervasive language and some violence
Parental Notes: This film will appeal to older teens who enjoy suspense. Youngsters may find it too intense, particularly the constant threat of violence which runs through most of the film.
Who would have thought that a film which consists mostly of a guy standing in a phone booth could be entertaining? In spite of its static nature, a decent script, several good actors, and a nailbiter of a premise combine to produce a suspenseful film that’s well worth seeing: “Phone Booth.”
Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a publicist in New York, the epitome of the fast-talking, lying, manipulative small-timer, a la Sidney Falco in “Sweet Smell of Success.” He wants to cheat on his wife with Pam (Katie Holmes), a small-time actress he represents, he strings along a young intern and overworks him without paying him a dime, and he lies shamelessly to his various contacts and clients. He always uses a payphone to call Pam, taking off his wedding ring as he does so.
When the phone rings one day after he hangs up from talking with her, he picks up to find a caller (Kiefer Sutherland) who seems to know a lot about him – and who promises him a swift and certain death if Stu doesn’t comply with his demands. The caller, we learn, has a sniper rifle and is more than willing to use it. He wants Stu to break free of the “cycle of lies” he’s part of, to stop lying to his wife, and to come clean in public.
If Stu won’t, then the caller will kill him.
Farrell, limited by the confined nature of his part, shows us both Stu’s arrogance and his insecurity as the layers of his public persona are peeled away by the caller. The more frightened and angry Stu gets, the more sympathetic he becomes, in spite of the fact that he’s a horrible human being. Farrell handles the character deftly, managing to emote without going over the top or seeming fake.
Sutherland, who has only one scene in the film, uses his voice the way a classically trained musician uses a perfectly tuned instrument, coaxing exactly the right tone at the right time out of his vocal chords. It’s an impressive performance, particularly since the nature of the part deprives Sutherland of body language. He makes up for it by putting real menace into his matter-of-fact tone. Although his laugh borders on the melodramatic at times (one suspects he’s been listening to the old radio shows of “The Shadow”), the rest of the performance is flawless.
The rest of the people in the film, from the determined police captain (Forest Whitaker) to the women in Stu’s life, are stock characters without much in the way of development or depth, but they are played well and don’t distract from the film.
Although “Phone Booth” clocks in at just over 80 minutes, it doesn’t leave one feeling shorted. It would have been easy to run too long with this premise, but director Joel Schumacher doesn’t do so. Instead, he lets us bite our nails and wonder and hope just long enough before relenting and letting us escape the claustrophobic scenario of Stu’s predicament.
This is not a film for those in search of a relaxing, charming movie to see with the kids. Those in search of a good suspense movie that won’t run long or leave one feeling cheated will enjoy “Phone Booth.”