Monday, November 29, 2004

Movie Review: Panic Room

United States, 2002
U.S. Release Date: 3/29/02 (wide)
Running Time: 1:48
Rated: R (Violence, profanity)
Cast: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart, Patrick Bauchau

Director: David Fincher
Producers: Gavin Polone, Judy Hofflund, David Koepp, Cean Chaffin
Screenplay: David Koepp
Music: Howard Shore
Studio: Columbia Pictures

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Typically, a good number of suspense thrillers can get away with providing a sense of stress solely through musical crescendos and moronic women scampering either up the stairs or into a closet (when they should be running outside—courtesy of Scream)—making it completely obvious that danger is soon to appear on screen. However, Panic Room is one thriller where both of the film’s protagonists skillfully remain indoors to stay away from the threat at hand.

Suspense and tension are around every bend in this smart and superb production, and thankfully, there are no big-breasted bimbos in sight. Panic Room contains intelligent characters who continuously attempt to outsmart each other. It’s like a game of cat and mouse combined with a chess match between Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov. Overall, Panic Room is a platonic picture that provides not only an excellent screenplay, but also thrills, chills, and astonishing camera work.

In the late 19th century, it was common to have a “panic room” – a room that is completely surrounded by concrete and steel to keep out danger – in your living quarters. Nowadays, panic rooms are near nonexistent. While house-hunting on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristin Stewart) come across an impenetrable hidden fortress in an 1879 townhouse. They purchase the brownstone-esque house with a full-functioning panic room intact; the room contains food, water, its own phone line, and enough working security monitors to view every corner of the house.

After unpacking a few of their belongings and ordering a pizza, both Meg and Sarah fall asleep for the first time in their new home. While the mother and daughter are in bed, three men (Forrest Whitaker, Jared Leto, and Dwight Yoakum) break into the house with one objective in mind. Meg wakes up, manages to grab Sarah, and locks the both of them inside the panic room for protection. Unfortunately, what the men want is in that room.

From its eclectic opening credits – where the names of the cast are up against skyscrapers – to its closing credits, Panic Room flaunts its style. Director David Fincher, who previously showed his stuff in Seven and Fight Club, parades his panache even further in Panic Room. Frankly, no review of this film would be complete without mentioning Fincher’s glorious camera work. His smooth and unhurried tours of the mansion – through cracks of doors, keyholes, and coffee pots and from floor to floor, room to room, and inside to outside – provide for a creative and captivating view of the occurrences. Fincher also uses slow motion, silence, and a gritty lack of lighting to fabricate a splendid aura of ultimate suspense.

Screenwriter David Koepp has penned a near-perfect motion-picture that blends a delicious sum of dry humor, with an almost unbearable amount of edge-of-your-seat anxiety by inserting an unexpected twist around every corner. Panic Room is truly a much better project than Koepp’s other 2002 effort, the second-rate Spider-Man. It is good to see him here in top form.

Foster puts out a fine portrayal as Meg, the broken mother who recently divorced her millionaire husband Stephen (Patrick Bauchau). Foster and Stewart fit as a credible mother daughter team and their emotions help elevate this picture to its level of maximum tension. Likewise, the crack squad of Jared Leto as Junior, Forrest Whitaker as Burnham, and Dwight Yoakum as Raoul, further facilitate in making this film equally suspenseful and enjoyable.

If it’s a pulse-pumping and visually-mesmerizing motion-picture you’re hunting for, then Panic Room fits the bill and exceeds expectations. Its dim, grey, and gloomy atmosphere helps to sustain a sense of claustrophobia and tension like only the finest thrill-a-minute motion-pictures. Panic Room’s gumption alone will have you glued to your chair—trying not to blink. On the whole, Panic Room is beyond doubt a driving amalgamation of white-knuckling tension and dynamic technique that should not be by any means overlooked. (***1/2 out ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004