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Published: 2005-05-03 - 01:21:00
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Panic Room Review

By Joe Lozito

"Room" with a "Phew!"

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Director David Fincher is not a storyteller; he is more of a visual virtuoso. His films ("The Game", "Alien 3" and "Fight Club") tangibly drip with atmosphere regardless of the quality of their scripts. Mr. Fincher, it seems, has been searching for a suitable follow-up to his 1995 "Seven". And like that serial killer thriller, "Panic Room" has a concrete set of rules and boundaries which allow Mr. Fincher to shine as the skilled, stylish director that he is.

"Panic Room" rests on the assumption that the ultra-rich (and ultra-paranoid) have steel and concrete bunkers created in their homes to protect them from the events of this movie. To make this premise sit better (particularly in its hyper-luxurious Manhattan brownstone), a real estate agent insists that this "is a popular feature in high-end construction these days".

From the Be Careful What You Prepare For department: no sooner do Meg (Jodie Foster) and Sarah (Kristen Stewart) Altman move into the four-story, Upper West Side palace of a recently deceased eccentric than they find themselves hiding from burglars in the room of the title. Rather than turning tail and leaving, the crooks - a typical movie-mix of personalities - engage in a clever and surprisingly tense game of cat-and-mouse with Ms. Foster and her on-screen daughter.

Proving her mettle as an action heroine of the Sigorney Weaver/Linda Hamilton caliber, Ms. Foster's steely vulnerability hasn't been used to this effect since "Silence of the Lambs". And it's about time. "Panic's" producers were themselves panicking that men would skip a film with a strong female heroine (and no Aliens or Terminators) but Ms. Foster, maternal instincts in overdrive, is a force to be reckoned with. She is a pleasure to watch and she carries the film with a welcome ease.

With Forest Whitaker and Jared Leto rounding out the small but strong cast, Mr. Fincher is free to play in his four-story environment. His camera seems to be able to do anything and go anywhere. From the magnificent opening set piece during which his lens snakes down three stories, in and out of a keyhole and through the handle of a coffee pot, it is clear that Mr. Fincher is having a great time. The tight, clever script by David Koepp ("Jurassic Park", "Spider-man") provides Mr. Fincher with a defined and confined environment while keeping the stakes high (to add to the claustrophobic atmosphere, look for a Hitchcockian cameo by "Seven" scribe Andrew Kevin Walker).

Yes, there are plot holes and implausibilities; the very premise of the film, it could be said, is one big contrivance. But, when one burglar asks "why didn't we think of that," it is rewarding to see a film embrace its plot holes rather than steamrolling over them at the expense of an intelligent narrative. Mr. Koepp and Mr. Fincher keep the intensity mounting until an odd Hollywood ending which, I would imagine, Mr. Fincher will alter on the DVD. Mr. Fincher still has not found the perfect vehicle for his ample artistic talents, but "Panic Room" at least proves that, when that film finally shows up, it will be worth the wait.

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Movie title Panic Room
Release year 2002
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Visual virtuoso David Fincher creates a Hitchcockian suspense thriller which, despite some obvious plot contrivances, maintains its claustrophobic intensity until the typically bombastic finale. Jodie Foster flexes her action heroine muscles to good effect along the way.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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