The history of Phone Booth is packed with almost as many twists and turns as the film itself. Filmed a good three years ago, this was originally set to be released in November 2001, but the studio wanted to wait until leading man Colin Farrell had a higher profile. A year later, just weeks before the film was due to hit the screens, sniper fever gripped Washington DC and Phone Booth went back on the shelf.
As it turns out, this all worked out for the best. Thanks to appearing in seemingly every other film made this year, Farrell is one of the hottest names in Hollywood right now. Also, in a world that is seemingly ruled by fear and uncertainty, Phone Booth manages to surf the current zeitgeist perfectly.
Farrell plays Stu Shepherd, a lying and manipulative New York publicist who uses the said phone booth to ring a potential conquest (the utterly wonderful, if sadly underused, Katie Holmes) so his wife doesn’t see his mobile phone records. No sooner does he hang up than the phone rings again, with the disembodied voice of Kiefer Sutherland on the other end, informing him that he has a sniper rifle trained on him.
The rest of the film basically involves Sutherland’s character mentally torturing Shepherd until he’s a gibbering mess, begging forgiveness for his ‘inhumanity to his fellow man’. We also get, thanks to a smart and witty script, references to Hilary Clinton, reality TV, and society’s obsession with celebrity and violence.
Phone Booth could have been a mess. That it works perfectly is in no small way due to Farrell’s performance. At long last justifying his status as Hollywood’s ‘next big thing’, his portrayal of Shepherd is fantastic. From his swaggering, obnoxious start to the sweating desperation of the finale, this is Farrell’s show all the way.
Credit should also go to Joel Schumacher who handles the material in a brilliantly taut way. Schumacher has been guilty of some horrendous crimes against cinema, such as Batman And Robin – thankfully, this is more reminiscent of previous successes, such as Tigerland and Falling Down.
Thanks to the short running time and the ever tightening tension, the film flies by. The spoilsports in the audience could pick holes in the plot (such as why does Stu answer the phone for a second time, and do the police not know anything about bullet trajectories?), but dramatic licence is best employed while watching Phone Booth.
The idea of watching a man talk on the phone for 80 minutes may not sound enthralling but this is truly gripping, and one of the best thrillers in recent years. One thing is for certain – you’ll never stop to answer that ringing payphone again.