Phone Booth could have been made for even less money. I’m sure of it. How much of the reported $13 million budget was spent on helicopters and police cars? For the tiny bit of drama that added to the movie, they could have been skipped. Yes, I know that the movie made it’s budget and more back the first weekend. I know that far more was spent on marketing and prints than on the film itself. Still, I wonder why even a “low-budget” film these days has to cost $13 million. I suppose it takes money to reserve a block of Los Angeles for two weeks, especially if you have to pick one that looks like New York, but still.
The film itself was very good. It lacked the smooth final polish I’ve come to expect from a standard Hollywood production, which is a plus in my book. The basic plot is pretty simple: A despicable human being working as a publicist in Manhattan visits a phone booth once each day, removes his wedding ring, and calls an aspiring actress to try to convince her to meet him for drinks on a hotel bar. This day, the phone rings. As the voice-over says, Stuart Shepard (Colin Farrell’s character) will be the last occupant of that phone booth.
We’ve all seen the previews, so we know what happens, but if you really don’t want to know, stop reading now and go catch the movie. You won’t regret it.
The sniper (Keifer Sutherland) that has Stu in his sights is creepy. Is there any chance that Stu will redeem himself and escape the punishment the sniper has prepared? That is the central question of the movie, and one fraught with possible complications. After all, if the sniper could truly make his target believe that this is truly a matter of life and death, who wouldn’t say whatever he needed to say to escape? How would the sniper know for sure that his target had a true change of heart? And what about previous targets, have they managed to repent adequately? As the plot developed, I thought I saw plot holes open up, but further information closed them again. In the end, it all works. It’s all believable. While the sniper’s motivation is as tenuous as his grasp on reality, it is consistent, and it works. I try not to make the mistake of assuming that a guy with a rifle who tries to dispense judgement from on high is a completely rational actor, after all.
The movie takes place in a phone booth, more or less. There is an opening scene in which Stu walks through Times Square while lying to various people using various cell phones and alternately berates and butters up his unpaid assistant, but once the phone rings, the only scene that doesn’t either contain the phone booth in the frame or is filmed from the perspective of the booth comes at the very end. In between are about 80 minutes of Colin Farell earning a spot on Inside The Actor’s Studio, because this is acting.
In fact, each actor is perfect. Colin Farell is believable at every point in his character’s progression, and the assistant is appropriately naive. The wife and the girlfriend have small roles, but perform them well. Forest Whitaker plays an interesting role as a cop evidently dealing with personal problems of his own. Those problems are only hinted at, and I almost wonder why they are. If the intent is to ratchet up the suspense, I didn’t feel very ratcheted. If the intent is to set up that character for something later, that didn’t really pay off either. I suppose the stakes were pretty high, but the sniper rifle seemed a bigger threat than that somehow Forest’s personal issues would cause him to do something stupid.
Keifer did a great job as the sniper. He’s got a creepy voice and makes a believable psychotic killer. When I consider that his voice and brief scenes were added later – much later – and that the role was originally filmed with someone else, I’m impressed with how well they managed to integrate his one appearance on screen with existing footage. I also wonder if the film would have been worth watching with someone else in the role. Probably.
Phone Booth – Fox (In Theaters)
Watchability: Very engaging, hard to stop watching
Philosophy: Very moral. Even infidelity not acted upon is worthy of judgement, and repentance must be utterly complete.
Suitability: It’s an R-rated film mainly because of language, but it also contains violence and murder and shouting hookers.
(This review also appears at W6 Daily.)