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Panic Room

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Panic Room

Starring: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker
Director: David Fincher
Rated: R
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: March 2002
Genre: Suspense

*Also starring: Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam, Patrick Bauchau, Ian Buchanan, Ann Magnuson, Kristen Stewart

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

Knowing that PANIC ROOM is directed by SE7EN's David Fincher is enough to panic most viewers before they even enter the theater. The anticipation of gruesome acts is usually scarier than the actual carnage. In an intriguing opening title sequence, the cameras pan about New York City's skyscrapers with frightening panache as if each edifice holds some hideous secret. To add to the disorienting effect of floating amongst the large buildings, the 3D titles are set at odd angles as if they are permanently mounted in thin air. To complete the horrific ambiance, the deep bass music by Howard Shore (THE LORD OF THE RINGS) warns us that terror will soon be at hand.

The story by David Koepp (STIR OF ECHOES) concerns Meg Altman (Jodie Foster), a recently divorced woman, and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart). With nerdy black glasses, Meg appears a proper mom, and diabetic Sarah has a typical teen's slightly rebellious streak. Quite well off, thanks to her husband's fortune, Meg is in the process of buying a large brownstone in NYC's fashionable upper west side. The house has a special "panic room," which is modeled on similar impenetrable rooms in medieval castles. This one has walls made of steel and concrete, as well as its own ventilation and phone system. There is even a bank of video monitors that watch over every nook and cranny of the house.

You guessed it. Burglars show up and try to break into the panic room while Meg and Sarah hide inside. The criminals consists of Burnham (Forest Whitaker), the brainy but compassionate leader, Junior (Jared Leto), the dim witted inside man, and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), the explosively violent assistant. Their actions are as predictable as a Disney cartoon.

It is inside the padded cell where the movie sizzles, not in the rest of the house. "What are we doing?" Sarah asks her mom at one point in the battle. "I have no idea," Meg replies. Meg is too modest. She may be a bit claustrophobic -- Who wouldn't be under such circumstances? -- but she is ingenuity on wheels. No matter what the bad guys throw at her, she figures out an imaginative counteraction. The movie itself runs short of new ideas after a while and dissolves into a tale of who can hurt whom the most. Still, it is a satisfying thriller.

The best part of the movie turns out to be the tour de force camerawork by Conrad W. Hall. His tracking shots, which seem to have been filmed from the back of a fast moving bird let loose in the house, will leave you wondering, "How did he shoot that?"

PANIC ROOM runs 1:52. It is rated R for "violence and language" and would be acceptable for most teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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