A review of “Phone Booth” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language and violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

 

 

Joel Schumacher (“Tigerland”) understands the psychology of fear.  Not to mention the aphorism “less is more”.  His eerily cerebral action thriller is eighty-one minutes of sheer anxiety, courtesy of that vanishing relic, the phone booth.

Phone booths are going the way of the VHS tape – kitschy remnants of the 20th century that once upon a time served an elemental purpose.  Phone savvy New York City (10 million telephone exchanges and 3 million cell phone customers) has no need for these historical byproducts, but for a lone iconic booth at 53rd and 8th that stands as a testament to memories past.

Shyster media consultant Stuart Shepard (Colin Farrell) controls this historic cubicle, utilizing its low-rent proximity as a freestanding “office”.  Shepard’s high-priced suits and faux Rolex barely conceal the sleazebag beneath. He plies his trade from the confines of the booth – making and breaking deals and placing seductive calls to his latest flirtation.

An incoming call rips Shepard’s world apart.  The mysterious voice on the other end informs Shepard that the jig is up --- he’s been watching and he knows all.  The girlfriend, the wife, the wannabe clients he’s screwed over and his inhumanity to his fellow New Yorkers.  All the voice asks in return is for Shepard to stay put, and follow commands with the red laser light of a rifle scope aimed directly at his heart.

Farrell is the primary reason that this ambitious little film works as well as it does.  As the unwitting pawn in a twisted moral experiment, Farrell is called upon to demonstrate a wide range of emotion, extending from flagrantly cocksure to sheer degradation. The put-on Bronx accent occasionally falls back onto Farrell’s native Irish blarney, but all is forgiven by virtue of the Farrell charisma and those dark windows to the soul, his eyes. 

Split screen and quarter-screen technique draws the narrative out of the claustrophobic, three-foot square universe of the title. “Phone Booth” was pulled from rotation during the real-life Beltway Sniper crisis in November, but it’s eminently worthy of a second shot.