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Panic Room
2002 - R - 112 Mins.
Director: David Fincher
Producer: Cean Chaffin
Written By: David Koepp
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto
Review by: Jennie Kermode
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Having very much enjoyed David Fincher's previous work (especially ‘Se7en’ and ‘Fight Club’), I went into this movie full of anticipation; this despite the presence of Jodie Foster, who impressed me with her ‘Hotel New Hampshire’ era performances but whose standard of work has distinctly declined over the last decade. Sentimental schlock like ‘Nell’ and ‘Little Man Tate’ suggest she's long past the point of exploring her potential as an actress, so it was odd to see her paired up with such an innovative director. As it is, however, Foster handles her role in ‘Panic Room’ quite adequately, and it is Fincher, for all his ambition, who disappoints.

‘Panic Room's’ main problem is that it is clearly a compromised film, more the product of studio executives than anyone with vision. This is particularly unfortunate because the film relies not so much on a story as on an idea. When thieves break into their new home, Foster's character and her diabetic daughter are forced to hide out in the eponymous room, a supposedly self-contained safe space where they can wait until the police arrive. But what the thieves want is also inside the panic room. Thus, a stand-off ensues. It's a strong pitch with plenty of dramatic potential, but it requires its director to have a free hand, making the best possible use of the available space. In this case, Fincher's style would seem to have been heavily compromised as a result of studio pressure. His usual energy is dampened; his comic instincts have been restrained, and those sort of jokes, when played without confidence, fall painfully flat; and the stock tacked on ending only serves to enhance the feeling that one is watching a jumped-up TV movie. ‘Panic Room’ has its moments, but declines rapidly in artistic value from the very start. Where there should have been tension and claustrophobia there is just a sort of vague concern, and there's not enough *else* there to make up for it.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about this movie is its opening credit sequence, which combines unusual perspective with sombre music to impressive effect, as well as making bold use of modern architecture, setting the tone for what is to follow. Also impressive is Kristen Stewart, playing the daughter, and it's refreshing to see that type of part handled without recourse to cuteness. The kid is, in fact, the only character in the film who never does panic. The two heroines show a decent amount of intelligence and resourcefulness in protecting themselves and trying to get help (though it is, in some ways, all the more frustrating that apparently smart characters fail to employ more obvious solutions).

Sadly, the personalities of the robbers are underdeveloped, and they fail to convince as suitably dangerous antagonists. Decent actors have been persuaded to play cartoon-style bumbling idiots, and there's a lack of repartee between those inside and outside the cage. Forrest Whittaker is reliable as always, but he's playing a part which he's played many times before, and his character is too limited to permit any real build-up of tension. This is, essentially, a Hitchcockian concept, and it needed characters as strong and capable as Hitchcock's in order to properly impress.

Thankfully, ‘Panic Room’ manages to avoid most of the claustrophobia, chase and hostage drama cliches which one might expect in association with such a premise, at least up until the final running around and fighting scene, which is incoherent and altogether substandard. Impressive in places, worth watching for Whitaker and for the concept, but don't panic if you miss it.
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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