Phone Booth Review
For many film fanatics, when you hear the name, Joel Schumacher, you instantly remember the destruction of what could have been a great Hollywood franchise. Batman. When you also think of this name you also connect him to the word ‘Snuff Film’ with a film such as 8MM. And more recently he made a giant botch on Sir Anthony Hopkins film career by teaming him up with Chris Rock for Bad Company. Yes, Joel Schumacher is the director who keeps messing films up.
Though redemption for him might be at hand now. ‘Tigerland’ was a well-received film giving some praise to Colin Farrell, the leading actor. Farrell since that film has been building up a collection of decent and enjoyable films from Minority Report up to last month’s ‘The Recruit’. But now Farrell has decided to re-team with Schumacher for Phone Booth. Is the curse of the Schumacher going to strike again destroying Farrell’s film career?
Phone Booth has a simple straightforward premise. Stu Shepard (Farrell) is a fast talking New York publicist who’s always making the deals with the stars and the press most of the day. But everyday, Stu goes to a phone booth to make a call to his girlfriend, Pamela McFadden (Katie Holmes) to show his utter love to her. Problem is that Stu’s not a single bachelor. Instead he’s a sleazy already married man who is cheating on wife, Kelly Shepard (Radha Mitchell). Today’s phone call at the booth will not be the only call Stu going to have.
Minutes after he hangs up and leaves the booth, the phone starts to ring. Doing what nearly anyone else would do, Stu goes back and answers it. It’s not the girlfriend using a ring back feature but instead a person who announces to Stu that he is armed with a tactical assault sniper’s rifle watching Stu’s every move and if Stu happens to hang up that phone; He’s a dead man. Naturally Stu doesn’t believe this at first despite the Sniper relaying an array of Stu’s personal information to him. But the Sniper proves his point indefinitely when he shoots dead a man trying to remove Stu from the booth. The Sniper definitely is not kidding. Now Stu has to manage to keep on the line with the Sniper while fending off a gathering crowd and a large amount of police officers in the area.
One of the major questions first must be has Joel Schumacher made another bad movie? To put it frank, Joel has redeemed himself finally with ‘Phone Booth’. It is an excellent film. From the first moment you hear the Sniper’s voice to Stu, things get tense and nerve making. It’s very important in a thriller to grab the audience attention immediately with such a plot and it succeeds. There are moments where you could laugh at some of the things the Sniper’s orders Stu to do, but it’s an uneasy laugh. Plus Schumacher’s use of split screens (surprise surprise like ‘24’) keep us still at the phone booth the entire time which helps builds up the suspense as the drama unfolds.
So what about the acting of the ‘trying to make himself big in Hollywood still’ Colin Farrell. The Recruit showed he had good screen presence and Phone Booth shows how well Farrell can take a lead role in Phone Booth. It’s his best performance to date, your sucked into the terror that his character is facing and it results in you really wanting to see him live at the end of the film. Farrell controlled the lead in ‘The Recruit’ well but this really shows his potential to be a big Hollywood star in the future. His big declaration speech near the climax of the film is a standout moment not by just showing the character trying to mend his ways but shows Farrell’s ability to make it seem so believable. If Farrell keeps doing roles, which show off his ability as an actor, then he might have just started on the road to greatness.
Moving onto the other major role supplied by Kiefer Sutherland aka The Caller/Sniper. This is his first major film role since doing ‘24’ which has kicked his career back in motion. His acting beside, Kiefer Sutherland’s voice work is something left to be desired in previous films (Example: Armitage III Polymeric). He was incredibly emotionless before but Phone Booth definitely changes that. Sutherland excels in his voice role. He’s cold, ruthless, and sometimes funny in his ordering of Stu. However deciding on if Sutherland is a bad guy or a good guy will really depend on how you actually see the role of the Sniper. Sutherland’s ability to make the Sniper somewhat humane through his voice alone is unique. It causes us to question if the Sniper is either a righteous gun toting Samaritan trying to mend Stu’s errors or just a sadistic mad man who loves to kill. It’s a nice touch to this film and the role of the Sniper is something to be thought about after viewing.
Of course there are the odd bits of the film you can question especially in the use of certain techniques in the film. One clear example has to be the big booming voice over at the start of the film explaining about the use of phones in New York. By ending with the line stating that that Stu will be the last person to use a phone booth that will be torn down the next day makes it sound corny and something that reminds me of the Twilight Zone. Good thing they don’t do that for an ending. On another note, the ending is pretty predictable and is probably the only acceptable way of ending the story. The film is set around the phone booth so don’t expect a fight or something explosive somewhere else to round off the nightmarish day of Stu.
Some of the supporting cast are also wasted along the streamlined and tight 82 minutes run time. Forrest Whittaker seems the only memorable supporting character who is given enough screen time as Captain Ed Ramey - the police chief figuring out everything going on at the phone booth. Katie Holms and Radha Mitchell on the other hand are dropped off in the background of events. The two girls are just standing there looking dumbfounded or screaming at Stu. After their opening scenes so we understand where they lie in Stu’s life, they’re muted and return with one or two lines later. But with the terrific conversations between Farrell and Sutherland, this is compensated.
If you place the problems with the film to the side, Phone Booth is definitely a great film. It’s one of the more suspenseful thrillers in a long time and the twists are quite nicely executed. Despite corny voice-overs, obvious endings and wasted characters, Farrell is showing himself now as a proper actor with his dramatic performance. Sutherland is starting his return to films with an excellent performance as well. But it should signal the start of Schumacher’s redemption in Hollywood. He will never be truly forgiven for turning ‘Batman and Robin’ into a horrible travesty that it was nor ‘8mm’ for that fact. But this is one film that people could point to and say that Joel wasn’t a bad man in filmmaking after all.