"Phone Booth" doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it doesn't need to. Here we have a fast, energetic and suspenseful drama that utilizes the right techniques, all in a cool 80-something minutes. When you've got all this, you don't really need much of a strong story.
Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a fast-talking publicist working in New York City. His territory is Times Square, where, according to the narrator, is the last working pay phone in the big city. The narration sequence is very effective and it would be unfair to the film if I mentioned exactly what he says because that technique is what is used to pull you in.
Stu has a cell phone, but he knows his wife (Radha Mitchell) can't track his calls from the booth, which he uses to call his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in a clockwork pattern on a weekly basis. His personal assistant handles most of the scheduling, but Stu makes sure that nothing ever goes wrong.
But Stu is unaware that he is being watched by one of those 'it is ok to kill someone to prove a point' kind of guys. That man is played by the brilliant Kiefer Sutherland. Although we never see him, his voice is the most entertaining part of the movie as every word is accented by his dark tone. We don't need to see him to appreciate him.
Any other writer would have worked in a name for The Caller, but not Larry Cohen, whose screenplay is sharper than anything ready to come out of the sniper's chamber. Usually, a character inserts a pseudo name for the mystery man:
"If you won't tell me your name, then what do I call you?"
"Just call me, Bob."
The Caller doesn't approve of Stu's lifestyle, so he's out to teach him a lesson. While near the phone booth, Stu hears the ring and picks up the phone; from this point on he won't be leaving the booth anytime soon. The Caller informs Stu that if he hangs up, he will fire and the bullet will leave an exit-wound "the size of a small tangerine." Apparently, The Caller isn't happy with the way Stu treats women and the people who work under him.
When a body falls in the street, the police arrive under the jurisdiction of Capt. Ramey (Forest Whitaker), a serious and intelligent officer who is negotiating with Stu for about 90% of the movie. Stu says he has no gun and that he couldn't possibly commit the crime, but Capt. Ramey has plenty of witnesses on his side telling the opposite. Police units immediately have their guns drawn on Stu; one wrong move could mean the end of his life, whether it be from The Caller's gun or one of the many police snipers strategically scattered around the vicinity.
Colin Farrell gives one of his best performances as a confused man at the mercy of a psycho he can't see. In fact, the movie completely relies on Farrell to deliver. Director Joel Schumacher had to put a lot of trust in him, and it defiantly pays off. The camera is always on Farrell. Even when the plot turns to another character, the camera does a picture-in-picture effect so we are always watching Farrell; his expressions, his agony, and the sweat rolling down his face. He also delivers an emotional monologue near the end that will surely have his agent's cell phone ringing for a long time.
The story gets complicated when both Stu's wife and his girlfriend get involved when they show up at the crime scene. The situation he's in gets even uglier knowing that either one of them can be hit by the taunting sniper. Stu's wife tries to talk him out of the booth while The Caller gives him different instructions. The media's presence doesn't make matters easier, and Captain Ramey is getting impatient.
The supporting cast is phenomenal. Both Mitchell and Holmes give smart performances as the wife and girlfriend, while Whitaker is the right guy for his role. But of course, the showstopper is Sutherland's voice, capable of producing a creepy laugh on demand, and witty humor that will have us laughing and Stu suffering.
The cinematography is also magnificent. Director of photography Matthew Libatique (Requiem for a Dream) handles the picture-in-picture shots perfectly, and often uses the camera to widen the phone booth, making it much larger than it really is and providing us with some excellent long-shots.
If there is one problem with the movie, it is that Sutherland's character doesn't give us a good enough reason to justify his vendetta. We know he's not a religious fanatic, so something else has to make it right for him to kill people in order to teach lessons. This worked perfectly in "Boondock Saints" (if you haven't seen it, rent it today), because the brothers worked for God by killing sinners. I can't say much more without giving it away, but you'll realize how flawed The Caller's logic is. But enough on that. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review, so much is going on that it's easy to forgive some of the weak plot explanations.
I read somewhere that "Phone Booth" took less than 12 days to shoot. I always enjoy reading fun facts like this because most Hollywood movies take months to complete. Then there's the fact that the majority of the film takes place inside a small phone booth. Seeing all of this get accomplished is a good enough reason to see the film.
Then finale ends with a bang (pardon the pun) that will surely have everyone in the audience at the edge of their seats. "Phone Booth" may be the shortest Hollywood movie to come out this year, but trust me, once Stu gets ready to step out of the phone booth despite his orders not to, it won't feel like it.
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