|PANIC ROOM (2002)|
|"I spent the last 12 years of my life building rooms like this specifically to keep out people like us."|
|Time: 125 mins.|
Jodie Foster goes from Yuppie mom to kick-ass protector in David Fincher's latest tale of life in the urban jungle. Home invasion is taken to new heights as Foster and her young daughter, played by Kristen Stewart, try to survive the first night in their new home. Needless to say, after the events that occur, I don't think they'll be spending a second. The plot isn't what one would call complicated, yet it serves the purpose of entertainment well enough. What drives the film, and keeps it interesting for the most part, are the performances of its' perfectly cast players. There's a manic energy about the proceedings with each character driven right to the edge and back. All are determined to win this contest, though it's clear from the beginning that not everyone is going to emerge from the battle unscathed. Foster's not an actress that immediately comes to mind as an action hero, but she emerges here as a woman with the intelligence to outwit and the ferocity to overcome.
All Meg Altman (Foster) wants from the move to their new 4-story brownstone is a fresh start with her daughter. Her fear and loneliness slap her in the face when she discovers three intruders in her home. She manages to lock herself and her daughter in the apartment's "panic room," a seemingly entry-proof hiding place built by the previous owner, a reclusive millionaire. Unfortunately for them, what the robbers are looking for is located in that very space. Junior (Leto), the late millionaire grandson, hired Burnham (Whitaker), the man who helped build the room, to break in and "reclaim" the money hidden in the safe buried in the floor of the panic room. He brought along Raoul (Yoakim) for muscle just in case something went awry. The house was supposed to be empty, but c'est la vie. The presence of a few women is not going to stop them from getting what they came for. Their only problem is how to get them to come out, since there's no way for them to get in. They don't prove to be the brightest of criminals, but then again, they aren't professionals and weren't exactly prepared for this situation.
What was supposed to be a simple break-in, quickly descends into an all out war with everyone fighting for the upper hand. Ingenuity keeps the ladies safe and alive, but it's only a matter of time before their need to come out, outweighs the safety of doing so. A bank of video cameras keeps them in touch with the invaders movements. Junior's lack of intelligence and Raoul's mean streak creates dissension amongst the trio and gives the ladies an opportunity to make a call for help. Chaos descends upon the group as the threat of being caught causes them to turn upon each other. Raoul no longer cares about anyone or anything except the money and he's willing to kill everyone to get it. With her daughter's life in jeopardy, Meg is forced to leave the room, only to find herself on the outside pounding to get in. With the invaders inside, the only chance she has to save her daughter is to take them out herself. They have to come out of the room sooner or later and when they do, she'll be waiting. The finale is both exciting and believable, something that rarely happens in a thriller these days.
Fincher creates a roller coaster ride filled with fear, energy, anger, arrogance, violence, perseverance, self-sacrifice and honest human decency. With unusual camera work and brilliant editing, he makes the apartment seem like the biggest place on earth with no room to hide. It's not easy to make one location interesting over the space of 2 hours, but the house is a character in its own right, one that doesn't take sides, but provides an endless array of helpful methods of destruction. The way the camera moves from one space to the next is wonderfully fluid and completely intoxicating, showing just how little actually separates our heroes from the villains. The reason Foster finally leaves the room is seriously unimaginative, but it plays well enough, allowing Stewart her moment to shine. Foster proves once again why she's a major star, giving dimension and honesty to what could have been a one note character. This woman is clearly not prepared for this type of situation, but she steps up to the plate using her instincts to get her through.
The trio of invaders as played by Whitaker, Leto and Yoakim are both amusing in their lack of intelligence and downright scary for their lack of morals. Their antics provide the film with much of its' humor, if one can call it that. Leto is mesmerizing as the trust fund kid in way over his head. You almost feel sorry for him when things stop going his way. Yoakim is downright scary as the unfeeling Raoul. This quiet country singer seems to have a knack for playing bad guys that make your skin crawl. He's the loose cannon that proves to be the one surprising element in the film. One can only hope to never meet someone like that in real life, as I don't believe you'd survive the encounter. Every time I see Forest Whitaker in a film I have to wonder why he isn't a bigger star. Though I don't think he should be, he's the soul of this film. His humanity shines through his actions. He's not trying to hurt anyone, he's just trying to make his life better. His weakness and greed initially get the better of him, but he refuses to become an animal in order to satisfy his needs. It's a wonderfully subtle performance. Though you want the ladies to be OK, you also want him to get away. It's a nice touch, making the audience care for one of the bad guys.
That being said, there's nothing hugely original about this tale of urban strife. We've seen all the elements before. What makes it entertaining is the execution. Fincher knows how to make a story compelling and keep it suspenseful. My main problem with the film is we're not really given enough time to get to know our heroines before the battle begins. We're forced to root for people who may not be worth our attention. This lack of a true connection leaves a whole in the center of the film where its' heart should be. Certainly, we relate to Foster's situation because we imagine it happening to ourselves, but that's not good enough. I wanted them to win, but I also knew they would, so what's the point? I guess I'll have to be satisfied with a taught, psychological thriller that thrives on being realistic. Everyone is limited by their own intelligence and physical fitness, which is a refreshing and intriguing twist on the genre. Once they're in the house, all bets are off. May the best man or woman win. It's not a surprise who does, but the road to the finish line is worth the trip.