starring Colin Farrell, ForestWhitaker, Keith Nobbs, Richard T. Jones, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes, and Kiefer Sutherland
written by Larry Cohen
directed by Joel Schumacher
I usually dislike movies that have Forest Whitaker in them because they tend to stink. But this is an exception. I thought it was an intense film, and I was relieved when it finally ended happily after the protagonist was made to suffer a lot of torture and humiliation in a public telephone booth by a madman with a sniper rifle.
Colin Farrell plays Stu Shepherd, a young publicity agent in Manhattanliving a typical life of falsehood. He pretends he is more important than he is to attract clients and impress people. To support this fantasy of himself he spends all his money on expensive Italian suits, and has a battery of cell phones to conduct his business. He thinks he is a big shot. This is completely normal in today’s America. Stu is not diabolical or malicious, merely narcissistic like the rest of us. And, like the rest of us, his fantasy of himself naturally aggrandizes his own importance.
But then Stu finds himself stuck in a phone booth in broad daylight at the corner of 53rd and 8th in Manhattan by a gunman who threatens to kill him if he leaves the booth or hangs up: a kind of Angel of Death come to deliver punishment on Stu for his sins. Conversation over the telephone between the two often brims with religious terminology. Stu is guilty of only the most mundane wrongdoing - inhumanity towards his fellow man. Anyway, to cow him with fear, the sniper kills an innocent on the street right in front of the booth. Throughout the movie the sniper is just a voice on the phone, and like I do in other films I kept wondering who the voice was? What face did the voice belong to? I thought and thought about it all through the movie, but I did not recognize it as Kiefer Sutherland, as we learn in the last scene.
With a man dead on the street the police arrive soon, and naturally they think that Stu is the shooter. There are a couple of hysterical women witnesses there saying he is, and despite the fact that Stu has no weapon the police don’t take any chances. He has a cell phone in his pocket, but if he reaches for it the police could very well interpret that as a hostile reach for a concealed weapon. They set up the usual perimeter bristling with guns that we see in so many police action movies. To make a long story short, the police eventually realize that Stu is not the “shooter” and that there is a sniper in some nearby high-rise window. They trace a telephone call, locate him, then go get him. End of story. Stu gets his life back.
To accentuate the fast pace of Stu’s life, the movie uses the split screen effect a lot. For example, Stu is featured in the center of the screen talking to someone, and smaller screens appear showing us who he is talking to and what they are doing. It is an effect that was over-used in the science fiction movie Hulk(directed by Ang Lee, starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly and Sam Elliot) that I saw a few months ago. I am not a big fan of split screens. But at least it was not over-done in this movie.
I appreciated most some of the messages delivered in Phone Boothabout cell phones in society today. For example, when cell phones first made their appearance on the streets we still lived in a world where walking down the street (appearing) to talk to yourself was a sign of madness. But now that these devices saturate our societies, walking down the street (appearing) to talk to yourself is taken as a sign of status. People confuse conversation with communication, and no longer consider the telephone a tool to be used in the service of/at the discretion of individuals so much as they consider people to be obliged to be available to others through the telephone. If reusing to use a cell phone is considered anti-social, then I am anti-social, and happy about it.
More than once the question is asked in the movie, “You hear a phone ring and it could be anybody. But a ringing phone has to be answered, doesn’t it?” Of course it does not. We are not machines, and we have a right to privacy and being incommunicado. Without that, our humanity is compromised.