U.S. Release Date: April 4, 2003
Distributor: Fox
Director: Joel Schumacher
Producer: David Zucker
Composer: Harry Gregson-Williams
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland (Voice), Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes
Running Time: 1 hour and 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (pervasive language and some violence)

A Ring of Greatness Unanswered
by C.A. Wolski

Joel Schumacher's latest offering, Phone Booth is a rarity among modern films—short on set up and long on dramatic action, and this is both its strength and its weakness. The film concerns Stu Shepherd (Colin Farrell), a New York press agent who lives in a jungle of lies. It is because of these lies that he eventually finds himself trapped in the last freestanding phone booth in Manhattan besieged both by police and a mad sniper (Kiefer Sutherland).

The anonymous sniper has chosen Shepherd as his latest victim the way a hunter chooses his prey—the press agent is fundamentally weak and tries to hide his weakness by dressing and acting the part of a strong, in control, mover and shaker. The sniper has discovered the secret of Shepherd's façade and acts to unmask this sniveling man, the latest in a string of equally flawed men who he has summarily executed when they refused to take off their masks and profess their sins to the world.

This is a great premise, and the heart of the film, Shepherd caught in the phone booth, is riveting—reminding me of the type of psychological gymnastics performed in the claustrophobic, early days of live television. The problem is that we don't get enough background on either Shepherd or the sniper—who we only hear through the balance of the film—rendering Phone Booth a bit on the talky side and ultimately unfulfilling and unconvincing.

As a story of redemption, Phone Booth has potential, but the fundamental problem is that we don't see why Shepherd is worthy of redemption, nor do we learn enough about the anonymous, avenging angel—who commits an act at the end of the film completely at odds with his own, stated mission—thus undercutting the entire conceit of the film. For once, I yearned for at least one or two extra reels—and at 80 minutes the film could have used it—to round out the story, which feels woefully incomplete.

The success of the phone booth scenes are a credit to Farrell, who really shines, making his despicable Shepherd into an amiable loser who wants to both do good and be a big man. Sutherland is good as far as it goes, but his line delivery seems a bit canned at times (he was added to the film long after it was shot). The rest of the cast is good, but underused, including Katie Holmes as Shepherd's would-be mistress, and Forrest Whittaker as cop-with-a-heart Ramey.

On the whole, Phone Booth is an interesting, if flawed attempt at exploring the price of redemption. It just could have been so much more.

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