Rental Review: Panic Room

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )
DVD Extras Rating: Poor

I began writing movie review in late May of 2002. Panic Room came out March 2002. Thus, a review for Panic Room has (since now) been vacant from my site, till now. When I first saw Panic Room on April 1st, 2002 (my birthday), I LOVED it. After two repeat viewings on DVD, I still LOVE IT. And it is my because of my affection for this film, that I have decided to go back, and write a review.

Director David Fincher has been on a little bit of a role. After his cult favorite, and critically praised, Fight Club, Fincher landed this project (and also Mission: Impossible 3, scheduled for a summer 2004 release). Fincher it seems has taken the time to nurture this movie has he did with Fight Club, and it is because of this TLC that Panic Room can blossom at the theater.

Jodie Foster stars at Meg Altman, a recently divorced woman, who has decided to move back to Manhattan with her considerable settlement and daughter, Sarah. In the first 5 minutes of Panic Room, Meg is able to do what most New Yorkers will go there whole lives without doing, finding the perfect apartment on the Upper West Side. The brownstone has 4 floors, and an elevator. Most interesting though is a room of the master bedroom. A panic room. This room has no windows, only one door that is 6 inches thick reinforced steel, and the entire room, floor, ceiling, walls in made of a foot of steel itself. Inside the room are 8 monitors to 8 security cameras that can see practically every corner of the house, a separate ventilation system, and a phone line that is not connected to the main line. The only purpose of this room is protect the owner in case of a intruders.

It doesn’t take long for the movie to kick into high gear, as three men break into the house on their first night. Now these three burglars are not your normal cat variety, they are here for a purpose: the previous owner had a considerable fortune that has yet to be discovered. Junior, the grandson or aide of the previous owner (his exact relationship is not known) knows where the fortune is. Burnham is the maker of the panic room. Burnham is in a custody battle for his kids, and he needs the money that is stored up there. After some convincing, he decides to join Junior. The third is “Raoul,” a “professional” that Junior has decided to enlist the help of.

When they arrive at the house, they are surprised to see in inhabited, especially the nervous Bernham, who is only doing this because he absolutely needs to. However, Junior and “Raoul” decide that since there are the only two, “Raoul” and his gun can handle personnel, if you will. Of course, this fails spectacularly, and after a fantastic chase sequence, Meg and Sarah end up in the panic room, the one room that the three intruders need to get into.

When I look back on Panic Room, the plot in of itself is really foolish, if not simplistic. Three guys trying to break in to a house so they can rob a safe? Seems a little too cliched to me...or so I thought. This simple idea is the perfect backdrop to the REAL story, the panic room. Anyone can make a story about people trying to kill/rob other people for an elaborate reason, but when it all takes place in one house, and involves a panic room, everything seems so much more fascinating and unique.

The most impressive feet that Panic Room accomplishes is its way of making a taut thriller, while shooting the majority of the movie in a room that’s about 8X4. Most of Panic Room takes place is said panic room and the outlining house. Even while Meg and Sarah are secured in the panic room, we are still on the edge of our seats, waiting to see what happens, and how they will get out.

Panic Room has some of the most unique camera work to be seen this year. It will certainly be a travesty if cinematographers Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji are not nominated for the Oscar. There are no rough transitions at all throughout the entire film. The camera work is smoother than silk. Also fascinating are the shots the go right through the key hole, coffee pot handle, etc.

Since having her children, Jodie Foster has been off the Hollywood radar. Its good to see her back in action, here in Panic Room. Her performance as Meg is fantastic. Not to mention how well the character is written. Meg is a strong woman, not just a girl who can scream loud, and Jodie just radiates strong woman. Interesting side note, Nicole Kidman was originally cast as Meg Altman, but had to drop out because of an injury doing the first week of shooting. The rest of the cast is excellent, including Kristin Stewart as Sarah and Forrest Whitiker as a compassionate criminal.

The genre of thriller is difficult to judge. If a thriller does just that, thrill us, then it has to work on some level. Panic Room goes above and beyond this. The acting is wonderful, the camera work is superlative, and the tension is at a maximum level. Panic Room is a fantastic thriller, that is strongly recommended to everyone who enjoys white knuckles.

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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