Review: Phone Booth (2003)

If you dive below the surface, the film’s narrative starts to break apart, but anyone looking for a quick thriller might just enjoy Phone Booth.

Phone Booth (2002)

Director: Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin).

Cast: Colin Farrell (Tigerland, Minority Report, In Bruges), Kiefer Sutherland (24, A Time to Kill), Forest Whitaker (Bird, American Gun, The Last King of Scotland), Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill, Pitch Black), Katie Holmes (Batman Begins, Dawson’s Creek).

“You’re in this position because you’re not telling the truth” taunts the ‘Caller’ towards Colin Farrell’s character Stu Shepard, to which he retorts “No, I’m in this fucking position because you have a gun!”.

That’s the premise of 2003’s Phone Booth, which, funnily enough, takes place almost entirely within a phone booth. Stu Shepard, a publicist who dons Italian suits and expensive watches, lies to everyone he knows, and is cheating on his wife.

Despite owning a cellphone, Stu uses the same phone booth in Times Square every day, to call his gorgeous, young, blonde, female ‘friend’. After removing his wedding ring, Stu calls her and lures her with the idea of auditions and advancements in her career. After a failed attempt at a meeting, Stu sets the phone down and is about to leave, when suddenly the phone starts to ring.

“Isn’t it funny? You hear a phone ring and it could be anybody. But a ringing phone has to be answered, doesn’t it?” The first lines from a man we can only name as the ‘Caller’, expertly voiced by Kiefer Sutherland. This is the catalyst for the rest of this 81 minute film, as Stu and the Caller trade swears and ideologies.

Sutherland’s derisive, perceptive but disturbed tones are a perfect match for the twisted sniper that’s decided to play God. Director Joel Schumacher manages to keep a claustrophobic and trapped feeling to the film, even the script feels pinched. Imagine a Die Hard film where John McClane is trapped within an air duct throughout the entire movie. That’s what Phone Booth feels like.

There’s a very real texture to Phone Booth, perhaps it’s due to the fact it takes place in real-time, you start to feel as drained as Stu does coming toward the end. What was once just a two-man affair becomes national news, as the Caller shoots a pimp when Stu asks him to do so. News teams start gathering, the police respond and soon enough all of America has their eyes on the phone booth.

“Do you see the tourists with their video cameras, hoping the cops will shoot you so they can sell the tape to Goriest Police Shoot-outs?” remarks Sutherland’s Caller, almost seductively, as if he’s getting a high from the events unfolding.

Capt. Ed Ramey (Forest Whitaker) attempts to defuse the situation and get Stu out of the booth, but soon catches on that Stu’s not speaking to his psychiatrist.

Colin Farrell.png
Colin Farrell in Phone Booth. Credit: Zucker/Netter Productions & 20th Century Fox.

Overall, the scenario is way beyond plausible, and this will no doubt annoy some people on a certain level. But the absurdity of the premise is partly what makes the film fascinating, to see how that scenario would play out. We’re told that the Caller has done this before, with two other men that ended up dead. It’s exciting to see how both Stu and the Caller take on a situation that neither of them have been in before.

Larry Cohen’s script keeps the state of affairs tense, once again aided by the real-time element of the film. Alongside everything is a lively but pounding soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams.

Coming toward the end, the film feels like it starts stalling as the Captain’s failed marriage sub-plot gets drawn up. Clichés start to get thrown around and Farrell delivers an impressive but predictable monologue, supposedly redeeming himself. But if there’s a man aiming a sniper toward you, he’s probably not in a position to let you get off that easy. The Caller’s motivations for forcing Stu to confess seem minuscule since he really hasn’t done much wrong. The caller mentions he’s previously shot pedophiles but Stu hasn’t even cheated on his wife.

If you dive below the surface, the film’s narrative starts to break apart, but anyone looking for a quick thriller might just enjoy Phone Booth. A forgotten but enjoyable gem.


Feature image credit: 20th Century Fox

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