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Panic Room (2002) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Panic Room Review

Director: David Fincher
Writer: David Koepp
Stars: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto

It’s hard to believe anyone other than Jodie Foster in the leading role of Meg Altman in the film Panic Room. For almost 2 hours of this Crime Drama Thriller it is Foster who carries the film and some might say a difficult film to keep the suspense up and intensity in what is set in a house in New York with a handful of cast members. Before production the role of Altman was Nicole Kidmans until she found out she was expecting the arrival of her daughter, Sarah. Nevertheless, Kidman would still “appear” in the film in another role, although a cameo as the voice of Meg Altman’s ex husbands girlfriend on the phone. Panic Room is about a divorced woman Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her diabetic daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) who take refuge in their newly purchased house’s safe room, when three men break-in, searching for a missing fortune. Only trouble is, the fortune is in the Panic Room.

Jodie Foster is terrific as the mother Meg. Her primary goal isn’t to protect the house that she and her Daughter have just moved into. Her goal is to keep Sarah safe and suffering from diabetes adds to the complications that I spoke of in Koepps writing. Foster and Stewart do a great job as Mother and Daughter and you must remember that Stewart was only 11 or 12 at the time and shows a great level of maturity in her character portrayal and as an actor up alongside the veteran actor of Jodie Foster holds her own. I like the way that both are strong and focused (particularly Foster) in this plot. There are elements of fear that would come naturally to this scenario but Foster manages to portray Altman as a focused individual and in particular when she requires the cell phone and her daughters medical needs. Foster also portays the character as broken and hurt after her separation from her ex husband. You see this early on in the film where Foster appears distant, distracted by the situation of her relationship.

Junior (Leto), Burnham (Whitaker) and Raoul (Yoakam) as the villains word for me. I like the fact that all three men all have the same goal but how they go about succeeding shows the audience that all three have different approaches and characteristics. Leto’s Junior is the organiser who is a little impatient but will push to get the job done to an extent. Burnham is the technical expertise and helped build the panic rooms in his previous line of work and know the houses structure and outline. Burnam’s intentions are evident from the beginning, he means no harm and only wants the rewards in the most painless way possible. It’s also clear to see that originally from Burnham’s reaction in the arrival of the third member Raoul that the job was between him and Junior and somewhere down the line Raoul has been invited into the job by Junior. Leto as many know is one of the most famous method actors out there at the moment. Here I don’t really see that at this point in his career. His portrayal of Junior is erratic at times and petulant when push comes to shove. Whitaker is the calming presence amongst the chaos. The imposing towering stature of the man is the mirror opposite of his nature, Whitaker’s portrayal is a methodical and reasonable villain that he does well. Yoakam is possibly the biggest surprise of the three. His portrayal of Raoul in the beginning is mysterious and quiet, wearing a ski mask to disguise himself. It’s at the midway point in the film that we see the turn in his character and Yoakam’s performance is the one that stands out to me as he goes from quiet and sneaky to a nasty piece of work and reveals his intentions towards Meg and Sarah.

As far as David Fincher films go, Panic Room probably isn’t one of his best. That’s not to say it isn’t a good film. I mean it just isn’t up to the standards or as iconic as his previous films Fight Club or Seven (Se7en) I love a film that is set in an isolated environment and good writing and dialogue are relied on and in David Koepp we get exactly that. Koepp’s career as a writer is without question a success story in it’s own right. Films like Jurassic Park, Carlito’s Way and Mission: Impossible along with a few more have Koepp’s mark all over it. In Panic Room the writer invents realistic scenarios to keep the suspense going and lets be honest you need this in a film set in a house where one party wants to remain safe in the Panic Room whereas the other party want into the Panic Room for their rewards. Sounds like a bit of a stalemate unless there are obstacles in the way. Fincher’s style in this film is the first time I saw that keyhole camera effect where the camera can go through bannisters on the stairs and into the wall cavities etc and at times I felt like the Director had a new toy that he couldn’t put down and for the first 30 minutes or so it became a little annoying. Forgetting that, the look of this old house and the lighting is also one of the movies themes and tones. It’s old, but not creepy. There is a lot of darkness and grey throughout the film and also deliberate out of focus shots that add to mystery and suspense.

Overall Panic Room is an enjoyable and suspenseful experience. Foster and Whitaker are equally brilliant from different perspectives and the supporting cast (albeit small) in Stewart, Yoakam and Leto leave us with memorable characters. David Fincher’s direction created a suspenseful yet somber toned film using rather dull colours and themes creating an isolated feel to the environment these characters found themselves in. It is not Fincher’s best movie by far, but it is a pretty decent film. Recommend.

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