I wouldn’t be surprised to discover Phone Booth had been completed in only one day of shooting. Of course, I’m not motivated to put in any time to find out so I’ll probably never know, but that impression is a testament to the simplicity of this smartly crafted little thriller.
What makes Phone Booth so deceptively simple? Location! There’s only one. No scene switches from apartment, to bar, to coffee house, to work, and back again. No need for breaks in which we follow some alternate storyline, only to jump back to the reason we all showed up at the theater in the first place. Phone Booth is a movie that takes place almost entirely in and around one solitary phone booth. In fact it is the last real phone booth in New York City and at the film’s very outset we know that Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) will be the very last person who ever uses it.
Slated for release many months ago, Director Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth has been delayed repeatedly in the face of frequent world events. Studios get nervous about releasing sniper flicks when that very thing is terrorizing the nation’s capital. If you’re sharp, you should be able to gauge the movie’s intended release date by the length of Colin Farrell’s hair. Phone Booth finds it greasily entrenched in a Minority Report like fashion.
Unlike some other recently delayed offerings (Collateral Damage anyone?) Phone Booth was worth the wait. This is something unexpected from Schumacher, who is most often known for big budget, big location, big explosion extravaganza’s that float across the screen in mid-May, touting catchy tag lines and often times overrated big-name stars. Granted, I wouldn’t exactly call Phone Booth thoughtful, but this story of a would-be-prick trapped under the scope of a psychopathic sniper gone mad is a detailed and gripping piece of terror analysis.
Farrell’s character is trapped. If he leaves the phone booth he dies. If he stays, his unseen attacker forces him to face some difficult truths about his prickish life. The idea is that this random “avenging angel” is punishing Stu for living like a superficial ass. At it’s outset, the movie does make some effort to show us that. But 2 minutes of footage showing Colin swapping cell phones and abusing an intern are hardly justification for a sniper-controlled public flogging. I for one never quite got what really drove this mystery caller to target Stu in the first place. Granted, it’s nice to see a movie where the foibles of the film’s focus aren’t overblown into cartoonish simplicity. But my only criticism of this otherwise wholly enjoyable (if short) flick is that maybe we needed just a little more back story on Stu to really “get” it.
Outside of that, Schumacher does a fantastic job of making something smart out of something that could have been extremely simple. Farrell is an attention getter with greatness in his eye. Though his natural Irish accent pokes through his put on Bronx from time to time, he shows real grit and determination in a believable portrayal of his character. Kiefer Sutherland was an ideal choice to play the voice on the other end. With his soft, deep, tones hauntingly believable in their madness and dementia, he carries the film by adding disturbed bits of humor and sadism to make Farrell’s de-evolution altogether appropriate.
Sure this thing is simple. It could easily have been an indie film. Schumacher however does a genius job of blending in some of his own big budget style into an extremely low budget concept. The result is an engaging thriller well worth the trip to buy a ticket, even though I personally haven’t found the energy to research it to the limit.