April 11, 2002

If Walls Could Talk…

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The rumor in the business is that Jodie Foster tries to keep her movie making schedule down to one movie every two years to allow more time with her children. Lucky for this loving mom, she has managed to pick a few box office successes to more than compensate her lengthy hiatuses, and this year is no different. Like Contact before it, Foster’s newest film, Panic Room, has topped the movie charts since its release two weeks ago.

Directed by David Fincher, the plot centers around Meg Altman, a divorcee and her pre-teen daughter Sarah. The movie opens as the two are searching for a new residence in one of the wealthier sections of Manhattan, because as Sarah states, “Dad’s rich and Mom’s just a little angry right now.” Mother and child find an enormous “townstone,” a mixture of a townhouse and a brownstone, to their liking and move in quickly, despite Meg’s visible unease at the fact that the house comes complete with a panic room. Built for wealthy, if somewhat paranoid homeowners, the hidden nook sports one foot thick concrete walls strengthened by three inches of steel, plus additional amenities designed to make the space livable should something other than the furnace go bump in the night. Happiness on the first night in the new abode soon turns to horror, when, during a trip to the bathroom, a bleary eyed Meg spies a figure walking around her kitchen on one of the panic room’s surveillance camera screens. The events following this disturbing fact develop into a plot laced with suspense of the wide-eyed, tense audience member in the theater variety, heart racing sympathetically with the characters’ struggles onscreen.

Surprisingly, the suspense factor of this action film is not the only notable quality. The cast’s performances are a treat to watch: Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart give fantastic presentations of Meg, the slightly down-trodden ex-wife turned sledge-hammer swinging heroine and the spunky yet sickly Sarah, respectively. Another remarkable performance comes from one of the hopeful burglars named Junior, played by Jared Leto. Fans of My So Called Life’s Jordan Catalano will be amazed at the sights and sounds of Leto in this movie. Gone is the soft-spoken bad boy with a good heart who made teenage girls swoon and long to be Angela Chase. In his place is a loud-mouthed spoiled brat in corn-rows, the mastermind behind the plot to break into the panic room. Leto’s portrayal of such an annoying character is perfect, right down to the two year old he resembles as he curses and breaks things in a tantrum resulting from the discovery that he cannot plow through a foot of concrete and three inches of steel with a sledgehammer.

Obviously, in a movie loaded with suspense and moderate violence, the comedic relief delivered by the script is necessary and quite welcome. Humor in this movie is delivered at the right moments and in exactly the right tones as both witty remarks and laugh-inducing antics. The addition of humor to this plot never makes the action skip a beat, however, as the audience rotates quickly through a cycle of wide- eyed attention to nervous giggling laughter and back to suspense-filled tension throughout the movie.

Perhaps the best part of this movie is the cinematography. The camera shots greatly enhance the dramatically apprehensive feel of the storyline. Using both the simplicity of the surveillance cameras in the panic room and the incredibly realistic computer generated aerial sweeps through rooms, floors, walls, and keyholes, the camera can and does go everywhere in this movie.

With all these positive aspects, one would expect Panic Room to soon join the ranks of distinguished action/suspense films. And, while this new Jodie Foster venture can be classified as a movie worth seeing, the ending, to be honest, leaves something to be desired. While the suspense factor leaves the audience sitting on edge of their seats with white knuckled fingers clamped on their armrests for almost all of the movie, it ends abruptly and in a most unsatisfying manner. Its akin to the anticipation of having someone hand you a sugar covered concoction while swearing up and down that it will be the best thing you’ve ever tasted, only to find when you swallow the first bite that it tastes just like any other run of the mill sugar covered concoction. You aren’t thoroughly disappointed by the final scenes of the movie, they’re just not as satisfying an ending as the audience was expecting.

Despite being the only negative aspect of this film, the end is still the final swan song of any movie, and it is particularly this fact that may leave audiences slightly dissatisfied with their experience in the Panic Room.

Archived article by Katie Porch