“Isn’t it funny? You hear a phone ring and it could be anybody. But ringing phone has to be answered, doesn’t it?”
I don’t think there is anyone out there who doesn’t agree at this point that Joel Schumacher has lost his edge. But before falling of the face of the earth with films like The Phantom of the Opera and The Number 23, he delivered what would be his last great film: The 2003 morality thriller Phone Booth.
Stu Shepard is a publicist working in New York City, and he’s everything except a decent human being. From his wife, to his “girlfriend” and his personal assistant, Stu takes advantage of everyone and everything at his disposal. Little did he know how everything was going to change once he picked up the phone today.
Why We Love It
Two words. Keifer Sutherland. Screw Jigsaw, the sniper in Phone Booth is the guy that strikes fear in anyone who here’s his voice. One of the hardest forms of acting is voice acting. You don’t have the luxury of facial expression to emphasize your points, you have to give of all your emotion in dialogue. Which is probably why the sniper has some of the best lines in the movie.
I’m just gonna say it, Phone Booth is a masterpiece when it comes to cinematic execution. The editing, the pacing, the writing, the cinematography, the use of split screen, every element works to create a sense of claustrophobia in an open, outdoor space. Once things start rolling, we never leave the general vicinity of the booth. And because the sniper’s motives are never 100% clear, we really don’t know how many people are in danger beyond Stu.
Phone Booth also packs some power house performance beyond Sutherland. The first of which is of course Colin Farrell as the scum bag publicist caught in the cross hairs of a deranged lunatic. I think the best part of his performance is in his silent but telling facial expressions. The film exists on both ends of the acting spectrum. Nothing but dialogue, and no dialogue at all. When the sniper speaks, Stu listens. And Farrell does a great job at making the audience feel the fear he’s experiencing at that moment.
A round of applause also goes to Forrest Whitaker as Captain Ed Ramey. It’s through Whitaker that we get to have these intimate character moments with Stu and his struggle. As while as see a him go through his own minor self realization of what life is really worth. Without Whitaker, Phone Booth would not be nearly as interesting.
The Moment We Fell In Love
There are a lot of scenes I could point to in this case, but for me the greatest moment of the film comes at the exact moment whent Stu realizes that the sniper isn’t just all bark. Remember when I said that the sniper had the best lines in the movie? Well the scene where the sniper cocks his rifle for the first time, signifying that he isn’t lying when he says he’ll kill Stu, is probably his best moment. Right after, he goes on a short but oh, so sweet monologue:
[the sniper cocks his gun]
“Now doesn’t that just torque your jaws? I love that. You know like in the movies just as the good guy is about to kill the bad guy, he cocks his gun. Now why didn’t he have it cocked? Because that sound, is scary. It’s cool, isn’t it?”
It was at that moment that Phone Booth shot up the list of my favorite films ever. That line is short, sweet, and blissfully to the point. Everything you need to know about the sniper’s frame of mind is in that line. He views himself as Stu’s savior. This is the moment that the sniper stops becoming a man, and becomes a god with the life of a human being at the tip of his finger.
While it had a decent $90 million showing at the box office, Phone Booth just sort of came and went. It’s a shame because this movie is proof that there was a time when Joel Schumacher knew what he was doing. It’s my firm belief that this is THE example of the “claustrophobia film” if you will. And I have yet to see any recent examples (Buried) live up to the bar Phone Booth set.