The growing trend in Hollywood is to rely upon the technical wizardry of the people in the CGI area. Most films now seem to add the actors almost as an afterthought, something to fill in the time between computer generated marvels. What stands out in such an environment is a film that basically has one set and depends on the human talent in front of and behind the camera. Phone Booth is such a film. Its strongest point is its simplicity. Iím sure there are CGI scenes in it but in this particular case they are to smooth out the production not the primary focus. The plot centers on Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell), a slick, fast talker in the dubious filed public relations. This field fits his nature perfectly; Stu lies as easily as most people breathe. Stu even lies to himself and to his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell), mostly about his lust to have an affair with a younger woman Pam (Katie Holmes). Stu has the habit of calling his mistress from a phone book; donít want to leave a number on his cell phone the wife can find. One faithful day the phone rings just as Stu hangs up on Pam, the mysterious caller (Kiefer Sutherland) confesses to Stu that he has killed before and that he has a high powered rife set to do so again if Stu does not admit to his wrong doings, if Stu tells anybody or tries to leave the claustrophobic booth the Caller will kill him. After several loud altercations the police are called in lead by Captain Ed Ramey (Forest Whitaker). What makes this film work is it takes a simple premise and layers on it a nice little morality play. To know that the deceptions will live by can come back around to us with personally disastrous results. Stu is a man that has created a materially good life for himself and his wife yet there is no happiness in either their marriage or in the day to day aspects of life. Stu prides himself on his ability to lie, that in itself is telling about the corrupt moral compass this man lives by. Ramey is the voice of authority that Stu is forced by these unusual circumstances to face. In the bigger picture we are all made to account for our wrongdoings. The Caller is part demonic serial killer part avenging angel setting out to force Stu to not only be judged by others but for Stu to judge his own choices in life.
With such an intense focus on the acting abilities of the central cast a film like this requires consummate professionals in front of the camera, the producers found them. Farrell has the real life reputation of one of Hollywoodís up coming Ďbad boysí, a man used to getting want he wants when he walks into a club or hotel. This seems to have made him perfect for the role of Stu. A man that desires life should owe him everything. As the film progresses Farrell plays Stu in a subtitle way, his cocky attitude changing to one of abject fear and finally realization that he is ultimately accountable for the choices he has made in the way he lives his life. With such a tight, intense focus on Farrell this was the correct way to play Stu. The audience had to be kept on a fence, straddled between hating how Stu lives but still with enough sympathy for this character to compel the audience to keep watching. A more overpowering portrayal would have turned the audience off immediately. Whitaker has for a long time been one of those actors I always enjoyed watching. His style is one of intelligent ease as he takes on a presentation. Here he is a cop that is faced with deciding whether this man in the phone booth is the actual killer or a pawn in something far more sinister. Whitaker is one of those hard working actors that turn up in the most unusual roles and always delivers. Mitchell is perhaps best known for her strong role in Pitch Black but if you want to see the depth this young actress can reach check out High Art. Here, she provides the means for us to accept Stu, with all that he does there still seems to be some love and concern there. Few actresses can carry a supporting role in such a professional manner. Sutherland is perfect as the Caller. He can play sinister right up to the line without crossing over making a parody of the role. Holmes is a young actress to watch out for. While her role here is supportive she is capable of much more and I look forward to seeing her in more substantial parts.
Joel Schumacher is perhaps best known for grittier flicks like 8mm, Faltliners and Failing Down. With this film he demonstrates his ability by almost underplaying many aspects of the movie. Filming practically in real time, taking only 12 days for principle photography, pacing was vital to the success of the film. He takes little time in easing the viewer into Stuís life. As so often happens in real life something occurs in a blink of an eye that changes everything forever. Schumacherís use of picture in picture graphical shows the audience this is a morality play where there are many sides to a manís life. Typical of this director the framing of the scenes is impeccable. Cable television will ruin this aspect of the film when they pan and scan the film down from its original aspect ratio. As you watch notice the attention given to the details that fill the screen, how the lighting draws your eye, sometimes away from what is going on. Again this is a reflection of life where you may miss a detail in the heat of the moment.
Fox has paid attention to the details in the mastering of this film. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is exceptional. While the director often pushes the color pallet towards the blues for effect the overall presentation of colors are realistic. The Dolby 5.1 audio will take you into the middle of the action; you are surrounded by the sound stage feeling more like one of the extras than a member of the audience. There are times when all the speakers just boom out into your room. The extras include a full length commentary by the director. Although he tends to carry on a bit he does cover the unusual circumstances of a real time film shot with a very demanding schedule. This film provides a gripping evening of entertainment. It will rapidly draw you in and hold you until the final frame.