‘Phone Booth’ stands up audiences

Ted Pigeon

“Phone Booth” is a suspense-thriller set in the one location and takes place in a matter of hours. The structure of the story is very linear, with its main character confined within a phone booth for most of the film’s duration. Director Joel Schumacher recognizes the simplicity of the material and uses all of the elements of suspense to his advantage with excellent pacing, the most important facet in a film like this. And because Schumacher has the experience in directing that he does, “Phone Booth” ultimately functions as it should, as a taut and engaging suspense-thriller.

The movie starts off with a narration regarding the technologically advancing world of communication we live in, placing images of hundreds of people on the phone side by side. The narrator then turns the attention to a specific pay phone on one of New York City’s busiest streets, where the remainder of the film unfolds.

The film’s main character is Stu Shepard, played by rising star Colin Farrell. Stu works as a public relations hotshot who can make or break careers and struts around town all day talking to his agents on the phone.

But everything changes in an instant when he curiously answers a ringing telephone in a phone booth and soon finds his very life at stake, as the voice on the other end of the line explains to Stu that he will kill him should he hang up the phone. It’s obvious how the remainder of the film plays out, as the idea of it is nothing new. The situation gets progressively worse, making for a dramatic and entertaining story. Eventually the police are on the scene and the eyes of the nation are on Stu as he remains in the phone booth at the mercy of the man who’s aiming at him, unbeknownst to all the spectators.

The most fascinating aspect of the film is the merciless character that holds Stu hostage. It’s not the motives of this man that are interesting, but how the filmmakers create his character. Schumacher doesn’t give the audience a single image of this man while the conflict is transpiring. The life of the character is all in the voice, which is provided by Keifer Sutherland. This technique of not giving a face to the enemy has proven to be quite effective ever since Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, “Duel,” a story of a similar nature about an everyday man who is terrorized by a mad trucker, whose face we never see.

What also contributed to “Duel” being one of the most suspenseful films ever made was the complete lack of motivation by the mysterious trucker. This unfortunately isn’t the case with “Phone Booth,” as the motives of the enemy are quite transparent.

The movie eventually turns into a predictable preaching act on morality, which doesn’t work as a whole. In fact, the entire moral/ethical angle that the screenwriters have added to the story actually does nothing but take away from the plot.

“Phone Booth” works well on the grounds of being an effective suspense-thriller; it is well paced and provides solid entertainment throughout its short running time. However, the cheap attempts to instill a paper-thin message hold the film back from its full potential. Nevertheless, the film still makes you care for the characters and what happens to them, due to the strong performances by the cast and the stylistic choices of the storytellers.