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PHONE BOOTH

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Joel Schumacher
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 81 Minutes
Release Date: July 8, 2003

ďIsnít it funny? You hear a phone ringing, and it could be anybodyÖbut a ringing phone has to be answered, doesnít it?Ē

Film ***1/2

Thereís no denying Colin Farrellís fast and furious rise to superstardom. Few actors have been able to shoot right to the top so quickly, and itís easy to suggest that as a result of his performance in Phone Booth, Farrell will become one of the top leading men in the movies. This live wire of a thriller, which reunites Farrell with Tigerland director Joel Schumacher, is a uniquely executed movie exercise. In addition, it is also something of a morality play, with the setting confined to one area, a phone booth, for nearly the entire movie. And for Farrell, it provides the ultimate breakthrough role, as his character is the subject of the movieís every minute.

The story, set in Manhattan, centers around Farrellís Stu Shepard, a fast-talking, ultra-sleazy publicist whose entire process of maneuvering is based on a cycle of lies. Always on his cell phone, Stuís endless business calls are a part of this cycle. He is married, but being the kind of person he is, Stu is consistently on the lookout for something a little extra. Each day, he makes certain to call his favorite client, and potential mistress, Pam (Katie Holmes), from the phone booth located at 53rd and 8th. His reason for calling from there is that his wife oversees the cell phone bills. After calling Pam to set up an intimate rendezvous, Stu answers the ringing phone, thinking itís her, but it isnít.

The voice, on the other end of the line is that of a harsh, sinister individual who insists that he is watching Stuís every move. Stu, at first, takes the whole charade for a prank, but is soon proved otherwise once the sound of a gun being cocked is heard. Instantly frightened, Stu is then told if he hangs up, he will be shot on sight. This sparks a series of confrontations with others trying to use the phone, which in turn makes Stu out to be somewhat of an insane person. When an infuriated street pimp takes a bat to the booth, threatening to kill Stu, the voice proves his point by taking out the man with his rifle.

As the incident garners several witnesses, all of whom notice Stuís erratic behavior, they all take him for the shooter. He clearly doesnít have a gun, though the black cell phone in his pocket wonít save his neck. When the cops hit the scene, under the command of Capt. Ramey (Forest Whitaker), even they donít know what to make of Stuís status. Insisting that he cannot hang up under any circumstances, they take him for a nutcase. He convinces the police to a point that the man he is talking to his psychiatrist.

The power of the film is the byplay between Stu and the mysterious sniper, whose voice is provided by a wonderfully sinister Kiefer Sutherland. The sniper is no fake, as he reveals to Stu that he previously killed two other lying, cheating businessmen just like him, one a porn entrepreneur and the other a corrupt CEO. Before long, Stu realizes that this is more than a hostage situation, as the incident may just result in him being forced to come clean to all the people heís relentlessly lied to or cheated.

Phone Booth, originally a 2002 release, was understandably pushed back to the following year for a good reason. A series of horrific sniper killings plagued the east coast right at the time of the movieís slated release, and a decision was made in good taste to hold the film back. As a result, the movie ended up a surprise hit, having cost only 10 million to make and raking in more than enough to break even.

Iím glad it caught the light of day because itís a powerful piece that is superbly acted and remarkably shot. Director Joel Schumacher has had his share of hits and misses (his last movie, Bad Company, was so bad that I didnít even want to waste time with a review), and Phone Booth is unquestionably one his best films to date. With nearly all of the film confined to one setting, Schumacher juices up the screen with dynamic split screen and montage sequences that add solid effect to an already suspenseful tale. It is a pure return to form for Schumacher, as this ranks with his equally thrillers, 8MM and Falling Down.

One of the best early releases of this year, Phone Booth is strong, ultimately effective, and engrossing.

Video ****

It seems that with every release or so, like The Transporter and Just Married, Fox resorts to the old school way of DVD presentations; that of double-sided discs, which include the widescreen version on one side, and the full frame on the other. What surprises me even more is the fact that the picture quality of the anamorphic presentation manages to be as remarkably detailed. The use of color is particularly strong, as Schumacher gives the film a good touch of steel blue, and the sharply done split screen effects payoff enormously well. A consistently sharp and downright exceptional presentation.

Audio ****

Having seen the movie in its theatrical run and being overwhelmed by the numerous technical effects, I had a feeling that it would result in an astounding DVD audio presentation, and I was absolutely right. The 5.1 mix is a bang right from the start, and as the movie progresses, it makes you feel like youíre literally in the middle of the action, as a result of the sharp audio techniques used in the film. The sinister sound of Kiefer Sutherlandís wonderful voice is worth the price alone. Indeed, one of the best sounding audio presentations of this year.

Features **

Included on this disc is a commentary track with Joel Schumacher, a trailer, and a bonus trailer for the upcoming theatrical release, Garage Days. While I admit to being a bit let down by this notion, I suppose it is all that could be provided for the disc since the movie took only ten days to shoot.

Summary:

Phone Booth is a striking piece, one that grabs hold and doesnít bound to let go for a single second of itís quick running time, and the performances by Farrell and Sutherland are strong and ultimately unforgettable.