Review of Phone Booth

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A slick New York publicist who picks up a ringing receiver in a phone booth is told that if he hangs up, he'll be killed... and the little red light from a laser rifle sight is proof that the caller isn't kidding. Starring Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Kiefer Sutherland and Katie Holmes.
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Movie Review: "Phone Booth"

-- Rating: R (Pervasive language and some violence)
Length: 81 minutes
Release Date: April. 4, 2003
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Genre: Mystery and Thriller

The psychological thriller "Phone Booth" was one of the most interesting suspense movies of the early 2000s. The story line of the movie revolves around a man held hostage in a telephone booth by a sniper. The film was directed by Joel Schumacher, and it was originally slated for a Nov. 15, 2002 release; however, its release was delayed until April. 4, 2003 because of the sniper attacks in Beltway.

Almost all the action in "Phone Booth" occurs inside a public phone booth located in a very busy New York City street. Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) works as a publicist in New York City. He uses the phone in the booth daily to call his love interest, Pamela (Katie Holmes). One day, he finishes his phone call and is about to exit the booth when the phone rings. Instinctively, he receives the call only to realize that he is talking to a raving maniac. The caller tells Stu that he has him in the cross hairs of a high-powered rifle and instructs him to stay in the booth.

The caller then issues further orders that cause Stu to make certain phone calls to different people. These are not ordinary calls, though, because they stand to end both Stu's marriage and professional life. It is clear that the caller is determined to ruin Stu's life.

The potential killer warns Stu not to leave the phone booth if he doesn't wish to be shot. He should remain in the booth and keep to himself, meaning conversation with any passerby is prohibited on penalty of death. Stu remains stuck in the booth and has to ward off everybody who attempts to remove him.

Several people try to get him out of the booth, including a couple of prostitutes who intend to use it for their business. Stu does not realize the seriousness of the situation until one of his business associates attempts to intervene. The ensuing consequences convince him that he is involved in a very serious mess.

The idea of using one location to shoot a whole movie is not new; various people have tried it with varying degrees of success. Producing such movies is very tricky; most of them turn out mediocre, though some are extremely well done. Fortunately, "Phone Booth" turned out to be one of the latter.

The movie is deceptively simple, and this is primarily due to the use of a single location. Some producers who have experimented with the concept also use brief shots of different places such as workplaces or bars, but "Phone Booth" is almost claustrophobically single minded. The film also has only a single story line, so there are no redeeming subplots if that story fails to interest. Fortunately, the movie succeeds working well within these limitations.

Interestingly, director Schumacher is a producer who is generally recognized for big-budget, extravagant films, but with "Phone Booth," he succeeds in turning a simple story line into an intriguing production. He was assisted in no small measure by the adeptness of Farrell in portraying his character. This talented actor manages to reveal true grit and determination in his accurate portrayal of the man trapped in the phone booth.

The part of the caller, the voice at the other end of the line, was taken by the very talented Kiefer Sutherland, showing that many people believed that the movie had potential even before it was made. Sutherland has a deep and soft voice that comes out as believably haunted in "Phone Booth." Forest Whitaker also appears in the movie, as Captain Ramey, an experienced hostage situations officer, who manages to unravel the mystery of the would-be murderer by communicating non-verbally with Stu.

"Phone Booth" can be viewed as a morality play; Sutherland's character seems to be playing God and trying to punish Stu for his sins. Some film reviewers have even portrayed it as an intrusive contrast to "People I Know," in which Al Pacino portrays an immoral press agent trying to do the right thing.

While many people note that "Phone Booth" is not a regular edge-of-the-seat thriller, many concur that it succeeds very well in holding viewers' attention to the end. This is due to a number of factors, including the acting strengths of Farrell and Sutherland. In the end, however, credit must go to Schumacher for producing a truly engaging thriller from such a seemingly simple story line.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars