Phone Booth (2002) Review – Massively Underrated

I had a sudden urge to watch this film because it’s a little over an hour and it’s just really bloody good. It’s a simple and interesting concept and undoubtedly a film makers dream. The whole film takes place in one location and can be filmed over a few days with very little money and is pretty much guaranteed to make its money back.

Stuart Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a cocky and very punchable publicist in New York City. One day, he calls Pamela (Katie Holmes) from a phone booth to be a bit flirty and he’s doing this unbeknownst to his wife, Kelly (Radha Mitchell). Once he hangs up, he gets another phone call from a mysterious man who threatens to kill him unless he confesses his misgivings to his wife. Things escalate to the point where a pimp gets killed by the Caller and the police get involved. Captain Ed Ramey (Forest Whitaker) wants this to end peacefully and doesn’t totally believe that Stu is the guilty party.

Interestingly, the idea for the film was conceived about 30 years before it was made. Screenwriter, Larry Cohen pitched the idea of someone being trapped in a phonebooth to Alfred Hitchcock, but they couldn’t figure out why the person couldn’t just leave so the idea was shelved. Come the late 90’s, Coen revisited the idea and came up the idea of the caller having a sniper rifle.

Hitchcock died in 1980 so Coen had to find someone else to direct the movie. That duty fell to Joel Schumacher who sadly passed away in June, 2020. Then came the problem of the lead role. Would you believe that Jim Carrey was originally slated to star? For whatever reason, he dropped out and a lot of other high profile male stars were on the list of replacements including Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Mel Gibson.

The film would have been good with either of those but the actor cast was Colin Farrell and he really did a great job, especially with mastering the New York accent. The man is Irish, and I haven’t heard his native accent in an awfully long time. Same with Cillian Murphy. Where was I?

Speaking of beautiful voices, Kiefer Sutherland is the voice of the caller and his pretty face makes a brief appearance at the end. The producers struck gold with Kiefer Sutherland. It’s pretty much a given that if you’re going to have a mostly voice over role, it’s a good idea to have someone with a unique voice. Kiefer Sutherland’s voice is instantly recognisable and perfect to portray a crazed sniper who’s taunting a not so innocent man.

Whilst we’re hovering near the subject, the Caller targets Stu because he’s calling another woman. Stu hasn’t done anything with Pam, he’s just been calling her although he does openly admit that he’s open to the prospect of adultery. The Caller tells Stu about his other victims which include a man who thought of himself as a photographer but he was actually a paedophile and another guy was a corrupt financier or a stockbroker who sold his stocks before the market crashed and a load of people went bankrupt. Other than the fact that Stu is massively egotistical and a cocky prick and chatting up a woman who isn’t his wife, his ‘crimes’ really don’t seem as bad as that. What those guys did were actual crimes. Stu’s only crime is having an insufferable personality.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?

Stu is supposed to wait for the police to get their shit together but also grow and change. He ends up giving in to the Caller’s demands by confessing to Kelly about Pam whilst they’re both standing behind police tape and also TV cameras are pointed at him. It’s a good thing that YouTube hadn’t been invented otherwise he’d have been a viral star/massive laughingstock.

I get the feeling that although the film is just about 80 minutes, I feel like it would have had more impact as a short film. It probably would have been less known but they could have cut more than a couple of scenes out of this such as at one point, the Caller starts trolling Stu by making him say really embarrassing things and calling his mobile phone to make him feel compelled to answer his phone but the police will kill him. I feel like there’s a natural escalation of the threat but also a little bit of fannying about.

It seems that the Caller must have planned for this to happen because Stu points out that the pimp was shot and the police won’t find a gun on him but the Caller has already planted a handgun in the ceiling of the booth. However, when Stu points out the obvious plot hole that a coroner will be able to tell that a different calibre from a different gun was used, the Caller counters that he’s using ‘hollow point rounds’ that disintegrate upon impact but I don’t think that’s how it works.

Essentially, both Stu and the Caller end up stuck. When the Caller kills the pimp to stop him from attacking Stu and then hanging up. The police arrive and suddenly, all attention is on Stu. The Caller’s intentions seem to waver throughout the film. He makes it very clear that he will let Stu go once he confesses his indiscretions but once he does make his redemption speech to the nation, the Caller reveals that he never intended to let him go. Then what was the point of the last hour? If you were going to kill him anyway, what difference would it have made if you’d have just capped him the second he entered the booth. What’s the point of redemption if Stu wouldn’t be around to make the most of it?

Having said that, when the Caller threatens both Kelly and Pam because he knows that he can’t kill Stu with the Nation watching, Stu grabs the gun from the ceiling and shouts for the Caller to kill him only to be shot with a rubber bullet by the police. For some reason, the paramedic sedates Stu and just as the drugs take effect, the Caller turns up and acts like he planned this outcome. So maybe he planned for Stu to sacrifice himself and have a new outlook on himself and life in general. Who knows? I’m tired.

With a budget of $13 Million, ‘Phone Booth’ made $97.8 Million at the box office and garnered positive reviews. Again, it’s a case of a smaller film having a stellar cast and not getting the attention the deserved. Or maybe it did. I don’t know, I was 9 years old when this came out.

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