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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 Jerry Saravia
3½ stars out of 4

David Fincher's "Panic Room" is an intense, sweat-inducing, claustrophobic thriller. It moves with the ease of a craftsman who ably pulls one visual stunt after another, keeping us on the edge of our seats as the situations grow more and more haywire. Like last year's "Joyride," it is remarkably tense, but it is also dramatically hollow at its core.

Jodie Foster plays Meg, a rich divorcee who has just bought a three-floor brownstone with her teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart) in New York City. It is a remarkable apartment, spacious yet eerie in its openness. It even has a secure safe room, or panic room, in one bedroom. This safe room is secure indeed, designed to make rich people safe from harm in case intruders break in. It also has a surveillance system that keeps track of every single room in the house. Meg likes it but suffers from claustrophobia, and chooses not to finish securing it with its passcodes and installed phone line.

Meg does not have a cheery life, and keeps mum with her daughter about her ex-husband, an owner of a pharmaceutical company. She drinks wine swiftly in major gulps, and cries in her bathtub. She is definitely not a happy camper. Even her daughter, Sarah, a hypoglycemic, seems adrift and aloof.

One night, three intruders break into the house. They include Burnham (Forest Whitaker), a builder of safe rooms, Junior (Jared Leto), a slow-witted guy with dreadlocks, and the psychopathic Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), who has brought a gun to a situation that is a simple robbery. They are looking for a safe that contains millions in bonds, and it is of course located in the panic room. When Meg discovers her house is being invaded, she hides in the panic room with her daughter. The room is impossible to penetrate unless it is opened by the occupants in the room.

"Panic Room" takes place entirely in the house, that is its only setting. These are usually my favorite kinds of films - think of the enclosed settings of films like "Assault on Precinct 13" or "Reservoir Dogs" and you will get the idea of what this film is like. Fincher keeps the pace swinging at a swift, bloodcurling speed, involving us with Meg's plight and with the three intruders who conspire, bicker, argue and finally come apart in their endless attempts to get the money. It is all about survival, and Fincher is brilliant at keeping us scared, as well as exploring the house itself through crevices, phone wiring, outlets, keyholes, etc. In other words, everything we take for granted is used as a means of survival, on both sides of this cat and mouse game.

As thrilling as all of this is, "Panic Room" never stops to make observations on who these people are. For one, Meg is barely given much character development at all, and her scene in the bathtub ilustrates a side of her that is never tapped into again. We must also not forget she is claustrophobic, yet the movie carelessly avoids making that point again since she is after all in the confined panic room through the whole film. I expected more from her character than merely reactions and physical activity, especially since she is played by Jodie Foster, who turned down "Hannibal" because the Clarice Starling role was severely truncated and she did not agree with the character's behavior. Meg is no doubt the most physically demanding role Foster has ever played, but it is a two-dimensional character or did Jodie not notice.

The three burglars have interesting personalities, and the movies spends its time studying their interaction. Forest Whitaker is the ambiguous antihero, Jared Leto is the overcaffeinated, extremely dumb wise ass, and Dwight Yoakam is the chillingly laconic psycho, ready to kill anyone.

"Panic Room" is quite a wild ride and, on that basis, I give it high marks. It is a well-oiled thrill machine, expertly directed and acted. I just expected something more of a psychological thriller than a standard issue one coming from the combined forces of David Fincher and Jodie Foster.

Copyright 2002 Jerry Saravia

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