& Crew info:
Ceán Chaffin, John S. Dorsey, Judy Hofflund, David
Koepp and Gavin Polone; Directed by David Fincher;
Screenwritten by David Koepp
Thriller (US); Rated R for violence and language;
Running Time - 110 Minutes
Domestic Release Date
March 29, 2002
by DAVID KEYES
Fincher is one of those directors whose cabalistic forte
is an acquired taste for most audiences, and though that
distinction makes him more susceptible to being separated
from the consensus of Hollywood's greatest living filmmakers,
few of his detractors can so easily admit to not having
a slight interest in his newest endeavors.
the first notion that comes to mind with his latest film
"Panic Room," a thriller that follows his consistently
rocky road established by the likes of "Seven"
and "Fight Club." We're fully aware of the tricky
antics and eccentric techniques Fincher is capable of behind
the camera, but it's hard not to be somewhat intrigued by
the effort, even if it's just brief.
comparisons to the director's other works end, however,
beyond this point. While the movie has the definite Fincher
thumbprint in terms of style, its scope is much more simplistic
compared to the flamboyant narrative structures of its distant
relatives (notably "Fight Club"). It's also a
stronger picture than the advertising campaign promises,
a thrill ride so serenely pleasing and effective that it
reminds us of the days when Alfred Hitchcock was still cooking
up tricks behind the camera.
the movie opens, recently divorced mother Meg Altman (Jodie
Foster) is examining the many features of an upstate New
York apartment she is preparing to buy. Her Realtor informs
her of the presence of a "panic room" behind the
master bedroom, a secret corridor that can hide the property's
inhabitants from outside harm (such as burglars) whenever
they need the protection. Meg and her daughter Sarah, naturally,
don't see much significance in having the room there (other
than the use of potentially-valuable surveillance cameras),
but the very first night in their new home, a trio of thugs
bust into the apartment, alarming both mother and daughter
and forcing them to seek security there.
what you want and get out," she tells the three men
via an intercom. But they aren't that easy to persuade,
as it turns out, because what they wanta massive fortune
left behind by the previous owneris actually inside
the panic room itself, and they will do whatever it takes
to get inside.
conflict created by the premise is hardly the most complex
one to comprehend, but it firmly constitutes the famous
theory that less equals more. Unlike so many thrillers of
the recent years, "Panic Room" never overplays
its material or resorts to supernatural elements for its
payoff; the success lies in the sublime conviction of the
screenplay, which uses realistic characters in realistic
settings to set up a situation that can, very possibly,
be real itself. Furthermore, the movie doesn't bother resorting
to a lengthy introduction before it tosses us into this
hectic world; barely ten minutes have passed by on-screen
before we find ourselves knee-deep in the discord.
villains themselves are played by Forest Whitaker, Jared
Leto and Dwight Yoakam, although the latter two are almost
unrecognizable thanks to rather eccentric physical transformations
(Yoakam actually spends most of the picture behind a mask).
Their performances, nonetheless, are each uniquely fascinating,
with Leto and Whitaker as seedy crooks lacking the backbone
to harm others, and Yoakam as a ruthless addition to the
group that may have more plans up his sleeve than the other
two realize. This, needless to say, compliments Foster's
portrayal as a vulnerable mother with the facade of a fearless
independent woman extremely well, and even when both sides
can only bitterly argue through the intercom system, it's
deliciously restless world of cat-and-mouse is further illuminated
through spectacular technical achievements, including cinematography
that moves through corridors and small spaces like an ambitious
stalker, effortlessly maneuvering the most troublesome obstacles
(in fact, the movie's antagonists are introduced through
a breathtaking single camera shot that swoops up and down
floors as they try to break in). The editing, likewise,
is solid and adds to the tension; in fact, the movie's best
and most thrilling sequence takes place entirely in slow
motion, as Meg slips out of the panic room to retrieve a
cell phone before her enemies return to find her.
the picture contains a major fault, alas, it is the bland
conclusion that accompanies all this excitement, which feels
like it is being forced on us merely to provide the audience
with a sense of closure (which ultimately isn't very necessary).
But a small detail like this shouldn't detract some of us
from potentially thriving on the experience of a tame but
worthwhile thriller. "Panic Room" is taut, convincing,
stylish and edgy cinema, and though it's far from being
Fincher's best screen work ("Seven" still has
the distinction of being his masterpiece), it's a movie
that can work for almost anyone on several different levels.
2002, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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