Stu (Colin Farrell) is a New York hustler publicist, married to Kelly (Radha Mitchell) but in hot pursuit of Manhattan waitress Pamela (Katie Holmes). To avoid Kelly discovering his illicit calls via mobile phone bills to Pamela, he uses a phone booth on the corner of 53rd Street and 8th Avenue. When that phone rings and he answers it, he finds a man (Keifer Sutherland) on the other end who knows all about his secret would-be affair, and much else about his lying and conniving ways besides. What’s more, the mysterious stranger has a high power rifle aimed at Stu, to ensure that Stu will do as he is told – which is to confess his sins not only to his wife but the whole world, as the booth becomes the centre of a major police alert and attendant media circus, after one man is shot dead. And Stu seems the most likely suspect.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Phone Booth is based on a great idea (supposedly once crossing Alfred Hitchcock’s mind and later being scripted in draft form by John Sayles, no less) which would work effectively as a short story – or short film. It’s kinda parallel to the concept of Speed, in which a crazy loner holds his target/s captive by fear of death, and the suspense derives from a combination of escape and moralising. In some cases, the moralising is evidently hyper-real, as in Speed, but in some, like Phone Booth, it is the moralising of the mystery phoner that gives the film an added kick. Stu really is a sleazebag publicity hound (did a PR once do wrong by writer Larry Cohen, I wonder), a liar and schemer and a womaniser – albeit yet to consummate his lust with Pamela. But, as the Christians note (and Kiefer Sutherland’s unnamed villain is definitely a Christian, even though he likes to pick which of the 10 commandments he obeys), the sin is committed as soon as you think of it. It’s high tension all the way, with its focus on Stu in the booth and his immediate surroundings adding to the edginess. I also like the way the script uses the slip-sliding nature of spoken communication leading to serious misunderstandings. Schumacher makes effective use of the picture-in-picture multi screen device, it has a dynamic score and Farrell is outstanding as Stu, who begins as a cocky hustler and ends as a weeping rubble, ready to be a good guy. Not seen but heard, Kiefer Sutherland seems to have taken lessons at the Hannibal Lecter school of Menace Speaking Softly for this role, and Forest Whitaker makes a credible cop who is not as dumb as he looks. Phone Booth delivers what it promises and provides a satisfying thrill; just don’t think about the plot details too much. And whatever you do, don’t miss the opening sequence, which is inventive, technically impressive and a bravura piece of filmmaking.
Review by Louise Keller:
A dazzling nail-biter, filled with surprises, Phone Booth is a psychological thriller whose shattering expose is revealed in the one, memorable and inescapable setting. It’s a brilliantly simple, yet complex premise in which the protagonist is isolated and alone, but at the same time is surrounded by thousands of people. The dashing combination of director Joel Schumacher and acclaimed scriptwriter Larry Cohen successfully sustains the tension for every single second, as we meet and get to know a cocky, charming con man who wastes no time on people who are of no use to him. At first we meet him superficially – we watch him at work as he hustles clients on a mobile phone, handsome in his designer Italian suit and trendy raspberry shirt, walking confidently along his everyday stomping ground in Time Square. He arrogantly tosses orders to his young apprentice; he is rude, arrogant and brash. When he first enters the phone booth and makes the call to his fantasy girl Pamela, he takes off his wedding ring. We quickly get the picture. Then the phone rings and he just can’t help himself – he HAS to answer it (how can you NOT answer a ringing phone?) The ultimate glass prison located in the world’s busiest metropolis, the phone booth becomes a fishbowl from which Stu can’t escape. He slowly becomes exposed both physically and emotionally. The layers simply are peeled away. Colin Farrell is mesmerising as the small-time publicist who is totally stripped of his every comfort zone. It takes extraordinary screen presence and a great actor to sustain our interest, and Farrell simply soars at the challenge. His delivery of dialogue when his soul is exposed is so powerful that I challenge anyone who is not profoundly moved by this sequence. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled and I couldn’t breathe. I really like Forest Whitaker in the role of the police officer in charge – he brings authority coupled with a welcome vulnerability. Deft filmmaking techniques by Schumacher introduce effective use of split screen, so we can see the person on the other end of the phone, and scenes of what is happening around the phone booth. But of course, the ominous voice of the dastardly caller (splendidly played by Kiefer Sutherland) remains but a dislocated voice. Using the concept of what you can’t see will terrify you, we – like Stu – become shaken and disturbed by this unknown psychopath puppeteer who is pulling all the strings. Gripping and edgy, Phone Booth plays on a twist on the Big Brother concept and thrusts it close to home.
Email this article
PHONE BOOTH (MA)
CAST: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes, Paula Jai Parker, Arian Ash, Tia Texada, John Enos III, Richard T. Jones
PRODUCER: Gil Netter, David Zucker
DIRECTOR: Joel Schumacher
SCRIPT: Larry Cohen
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Libatique ASC
EDITOR: Mark Stevens
MUSIC: Harry Gregson-Williams
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrew Laws
RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox 2000 Pictures
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 22, 2003