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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

How safe do you feel at home? If you live in an urban apartment, do you have a 24-hour doorman, and if so do you believe he can do the right thing if danger strikes? If you live in the 'burbs, do you have an alarm system connected to the local police and, if so, do you believe they will respond quickly? Meg Altman (Jodie Foster), who has just taken a lease on some fabulously expensive digs on Manhattan's West Side has something I'll bet you don't. She has a panic room, and what's more she must have felt that such a specialized place would never be used because when she seemed impressed enough with the brownstone that the realtor (Ian Buchanan) showed her that she would have signed on in any case. So unnecessary would that room be in her mind that she moved in before bothering to have the security firm connect the phone.

What is a panic room? It's a place that's built by allegedly paranoid people, except that in this instance paranoia is not the right word. After all, though New York's finest will always show up in moments from a call placed from a high-end dwelling, the trouble is 911 which will likely put you on hold while the bad guys rummage through your property and threaten your life. "Panic Room," which was made by David Fincher, the man who gave us a similar cat-and-mouse game in "Seven," could also be likened to a chess game partly because the panic room is made secure against incursions by an impregnable steel door taking the place of a castle wall and partly because each move by one side is followed by a countermove by the other.

On one side are the robbers, who are not at all interchangeable. Determined to break into the house in order to abscond with millions that the former, now dead, owner left in a safe are the highly wired Junior (Jared Leto), the calculating and vicious Raoul (Dwight Yoakam, and the reluctant, good-hearted Burnham (Forest Whitaker). On the other side the players are the well-toned and intelligent Meg, her androgynous-looking 11- year-old daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart), and, later on, her estranged husband Stephen (Patrick Bauchau). Robbers move in, Meg counters by running with her girl into the eponymous quarters. Robbers take some unusual steps to get Meg out of the room (because that's where the dough is hidden), and Meg has an ingenious response. To reveal more would be unconsciounable, so we'll wrap up the plot by saying that though the story is a cookie-cutter thriller, "Panic Room" is saved from "B"-movie status by Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji's lensing, making the house itself the chief actor just as The Chelsea Hotel is the principal character in a far more pretentious movie opening shortly, "Chelsea Walls." As the camera slithers up and around the staircase, traveling inside and outside the built-in elevator, we watch the human chess piece size one another up and make moves accordingly rather than according to some pre-arranged plan. Jodie Foster, who replaced Fincher's #1 choice of Nicole Kidman, turns in a knockout of what we like to call a strong female role while Jared Leto handles the comic guise just fine a highly-strung lad living in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn with aspirations to do whatever a villain does with lots of money.

Roger Ebert holds that this movie is about as close as we could get to the ideal of a thriller existing entirely in a world of physical and psychological plausibility, but I'd question that. For example why would a certain person show up at the brownstone in the middle of the robbery without any backup from the police? Why would the criminals not know that people were already living in the house even though they were scheduled to move in a week later? After all, any decently-planned attack on millions of dollars of loot would demand that they stake out the place for days, even weeks or months before choosing the dark and stormy night that they did And why would the cautious Burnham be willing to accept his partner's sudden introduction of a wild card, Raoul, who carries a gun and would obviously demand a share of the loot?.

Flaws notwithstanding the leading one being that Fincher follows the thriller conventions too closely "Panic Room" has enough scares and some really nice acting by Jodie Foster to evoke a number of edge-of-seat tingles, making for an absorbing, New York-type of thriller.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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