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Those of you with a mobile phone would have undoubtedly received the odd phone call from a stranger. One would guess this would have been followed by an apology from the other end for keying in the wrong number. But imagine it was deliberate, and the person on the other end knew exactly who you were, even if you didn’t know them.

And so spawned the concept of Phone Booth, though the notion itself had been around since the 1960s, where screenwriter Larry Cohen pitched the idea to the one and only Alfred Hitchcock. The great director was impressed but Cohen and he couldn’t work out a hook for keeping someone in a phone booth for the duration of the film. When Cohen eventually dreamt up the idea of a sniper the script was born, less than two months after the crucial brainwave.

Phone Booth
But even though the script was complete the actual shooting of the film was still a fair way off. Director Joel Schumacher was originally slated to helm the flick but was busy with his first Colin Farrell piece, Tigerland, when the film was green-lit. Phone Booth’s script then bounced around other directors such as James Cameron but eventually fell into the hands of Schumacher once again while he was editing Tigerland at Fox. Even Australian film buffs in the know had heard about the film at least a couple of years before production, so there was a fair degree of anticipation for its release. These circumstances are often a recipe for somewhat of a dud yet the low-budget concept had an undeniable appeal which audiences were attracted to. Simplicity is often a key element of a good film, so Phone Booth was always in the box seat during its theatrical run.

Movie
Colin Farrell, somewhat of an unknown when he was cast in this film, plays Stu Shepard, a low-rent PR guru who oozes arrogance and chauvinism. We begin the film with him walking through Times Square with a lackey in tow, trying to keep up with him both with his feet and his constant juggling act with mobile phones.

Before long Stu enters the phone booth where he will stay for the rest of the film. He originally uses one of the last remaining public telephone boxes in New York (which is pretty much true to life right now) to call a doting young actress whom he seems to fancy. We witness Stu take off his wedding ring as he does so, making the audience like him even less than they did just before. Katie Holmes is Pam, the object of his telephonic affection and frankly I don’t blame him, so you can’t really string him up for that.

We quickly get to the crux of the story as Stu answers the ringing phone in the booth. Enter Kiefer Sutherland’s voice, doing his best Jack Bauer-esque voice since, well, 24. Another actor was originally slated to play the crazed sniper with a moral vendetta against anyone he thinks is being less than up front with others in their life. Thankfully Joel Schumacher went with the new-found star quality of Sutherland, as his voice is genuinely intimidating. The decision was made to have the voiceover sound as if its were more God-like than merely coming from the other end of the phone line, which has its detractors no doubt.

The film plays out like one big feature-length climax, the likes of which we haven’t seen for some time. Parallels have been drawn with Phone Booth and the start-to-finish intensity of Run Lola Run, but even the latter film cheats a little by having multiple endings to heighten the suspense. Here we’ve basically got one location for the best part of ninety minutes, so both the script and the acting had to be spot on.

With the script high on suspense but lacking a fair amount of logic along the way, the success of the film can be attributed to the incredibly talented (and Irish born, not that you would pick it from his American accent in the film) Colin Farrell. He’s now a huge star and may well succumb to the lure of Hollywood’s more hair-brained ideas, yet when this one was being filmed he was chosen on merit alone. Basically one of the only young-ish actors well enough equipped to take on this kind of task (Jim Carrey was once touted as a possible lead but baulked because he couldn’t convince himself he had the guile to play it out strongly enough), Farrell gives it all he’s got and more, ably supported by the likes of Australia’s Radha Mitchell (still yet to really crack the big one in the US unfortunately) as Stu’s wife and Forest Whitaker as the sympathetic cop who is thankfully not written into the “dumb police captain” category. Holmes is again given the young hottie role she was born to play but succeeds in being able support to the main players.

Phone Booth
The simplicity of the concept definitely works in the film’s favour. There are a few holes in the plot that kind of ruin things if you think too hard (why is Stu being aimed at for thinking about another woman?) but overall this is pure popcorn-munching entertainment of the highest order. It won’t outstay its welcome yet there are no flat spots whatsoever to spoil the fun. What could’ve easily resulted in a major disappointment after being handballed around to various directors turns out to be a surprisingly solid, entertaining thriller. The ending might not be to the tastes of many, including myself, but it’s enough to justify having sat through what occurred before the finale.

For a low-budget film shot in ten days by what sounds like a very dedicated cast and crew, Phone Booth is a perfect example of what can be achieved without having to spend the kind of money that’ll feed a nation. The script was simple enough to attract wide mainstream interest while the actors, lead by Farrell, do a great job at keeping us interested in this one location. It’s nothing groundbreaking and it won’t rival the more intense thrillers going around, but you’ll definitely have fun watching what happens to this poor bloke stuck in a New York public telephone box. Oh, and you’ll never use one yourself again without looking to the sky.

Video
The 2.35:1 transfer looks quite impressive even though there’s not a lot to challenge the disc with this one. It appears as if the job of balancing the light over the course of the ten days to make it look consistent throughout was achieved very well, and the visuals on the disc add that extra sharpness and clarity to the image. There are no signs of aliasing present and the colours are rendered well despite some instances of edge enhancement in a few places here and there. Everything is pretty much on par with this transfer, obviously helped a little by the short running time. The layer change is the only real disappointment here as it is placed right in the middle of a scene and will certainly be noticed by most of you.

Audio
The opening sequence is possibly the best showcase of what this Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has to offer. While we ride through some fibre-optic cables and telephone wires the surrounds are used to fully envelope the viewer in sounds. Unfortunately the ball is dropped a little in the early stages with the almost non-existent use of environmental effects and ambient sounds as Stu walks around Times Square. But thankfully the soundtrack becomes a little more creative when Stu talks on the phone. The conversations on screen are accompanied by the appropriate placement on the sound stage; Stu speaks from the left at times, Pam from the right and the sniper from basically everywhere, giving us a really good sense of placement within the story.

Phone Booth
The score is incredibly subtle and does a great job of building the suspense without falling into the clichéd thriller music. It’s a very industrial sounding score which is fitting for this kind of film. The surrounds are used to push the more musically heavy moments throughout, while the subwoofer only kicks in on the rare occasion. In all this is a decent sounding track without being anything special, which is to be expected for this kind of film.

Extras
We receive only a couple of extras on the disc, though the quality is generally quite high. First up is the commentary track with director Joel Schumacher. He’s a little congratulatory of the cast and crew, especially Farrell, but for the most part it seems justified and is by no means up with the Matrix track in terms of boring us with pats on the back. Schumacher imparts some good information about the production, such as how the production team conducted the shoot with “French hours” meaning they had lunch served all day so they didn’t break all at once during the shoot. This is only the tip of the iceberg in what is a pretty entertaining track.

The only other meaningful extra is a making-of featurette, combining interviews with the key players, behind the scenes footage and insights into aspects such as costumes, locations, an the actual production. This is better than a promotional featurette and does away with the cheesy voiceover rather quickly. One of the best bits is a behind the scenes long cut of a take on location, complete with footage of the camera following the actors and the extras doing their bit.

And, erm, that’s it. Kind of disappointing in that this is a very interestingly structured kind of film in terms of both the production and the script, but at least the commentary track and the making of piece are quite thorough.

Phone Booth
Overall
A great way to spend an hour and half thanks largely to the efforts of Colin Farrell. The concept is a pretty unique one and the script works well despite a few plot holes here and there, so you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least give this one a go. The disc itself is reasonably impressive, with a decent transfer, good use of the soundtrack and a couple of extras to add depth to the production, so fans of the film should be confident they’ve got a reasonable package right here.


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