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Panic Room

Starring Jodie Foster; Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart
Written by David Koepp
Directed by David Fincher

IN SHORT: A Mesmerizing Thriller easily worth the attention of a Hitchcock appreciation society. [Rated R for Violence and Language. 120 minutes]

When we started back in 1995, we were motivated by two things. We were tired of seeing big name critics screaming "Fabulous! A Must See!" for pretentious pieces of crap that never should have seen the light of day. Second, we were tired of reviewers who felt that it was their duty to recount the entire story of a film, beginning to end with surprises included, thus ruining the experience for all of us normal folks. We've always managed to stop ourselves, we think, at a point where you have all the story information you need to know, and have always kept the Third Act and its surprises in the dark. (There's been only one exception in the last six years but the movie really pissed us off). So please forgive us if we give you virtually no information about Panic Room, except for this one vital bit:

Under no circumstances whatsoever are you to purchase the super-Godzilla sized combo at your local theater. If you do, avoid the free soda refills at all costs. Otherwise you will find yourself writhing in your seat because you won't be able to duck out without worrying that you'll miss something. Trust us, people, if you do duck you will miss something important.

Director David Fincher, with writer David Koepp along for the ride, has surpassed his best work to date, se7en with Panic Room, a perfect, flawless, suspense filled thriller that presents a story of survival so simple and so realistic that there is no way you'll be able to turn your head away from the screen.

From the word go, Panic Room glorifies the intricate setup of any of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies. Howard Shore's musical score evokes the best of Bernard Herrmann's work. Fincher's camera is in constant motion, swerving in around and through the rooms of a whopper of a New York City mansion sized combination of brownstone and townhouse dubbed a "TownStone".

Formerly the home of the disabled and phenomenally wealthy man, the bulk of whose estate has mysteriously vanished, it is virtually forced upon Meg Altman (Jodie Foster, click for StarTalk) by her best friend Lydia (Ann Magnuson). Foster's Meg is a dead on characterization of a strung too tight Greenwich wife whose wealth is greater than her education and her numerical age too high for her former twice her age hubby, Stephen (Patrick Bauchau), who has dumped her for a younger trophy wife. With kidlet Sarah (Kristen Stewart) in tow, Meg moves to the center of all being of this planet, New York City, to finish her education at Columbia and give her daughter a new start among the elite in the best private schools in the country. Money is a very good thing if you're drowning in it. The "townstone" is large enough for a family of twenty. Sarah loves it as she gets her own floor to Razor scoot across. But the biggest surprise in the house is the presence of a "Panic Room" hidden behind a wall in what will become Meg's bedroom. Think of it as a bomb shelter, with a dedicated phone line, water and food rations for a month. A wall of eight video monitors are linked to surveillance cameras that scan the mansion at all times. The Room is wrapped in a layer of steel three inches thick and has a door that closes with such force that it could crush you -- if its laser armed motion detectors weren't working.

In the middle of the night, a trio of visitors descends upon the house. They know the codes to the security system. They know the layout of the house. They know exactly where it is they want to go and are very surprised to find Meg sleeping in the room. In the way. The leader of the group, Junior (Jared Leto), knows more than he lets on, which is a good trick since he's none too smart. The brains of the group, Burnham (Forest Whitaker), is an insider whose moral standards demand that the mission be scrubbed, lest anyone get hurt. The Third Man, Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), wears a ski mask and packs a pistol and has none of the reservations that Burnham does.

When Meg and Sarah take refuge in the room, the question becomes how do they get a plea for help out to the outside world when the sole, dedicated phone line hasn't been connected and Meg's cellular phone is sitting in its charger, next to the bed in the room outside the protective steel doors? Meg tells the trio, via an intercom system, to take anything they want. What they want, they scribble on a sheet of paper, is in the room. Meg and Sarah have no idea what that means. Sarah is not well. Meg doesn't like small spaces. 'nuff said.

Panic Room is an ever-changing battle of nerves and wits; speed and skill and gumption. It presents the questions of whether or not the bad guys are as evil as the captives in the room assume. Does "We are not going to hurt you" mean exactly that, or is it the equivalent of "You are meat"?. And what would happen if the situation were reversed, with the bad guys in the Panic Room and Meg locked outside of it? There's a helluva lot more coming your way tan that. There is more action and violence packed into these two hours than you could possibly believe and all of it makes perfect sense; it is logical and realistic and the story drives forward in ways you cannot possibly see coming. Panic Room is one of the few films we've ever seen where foreshadowing plays virtually no part whatsoever in telling the story. You, like poor Meg and Sarah, are on your own. This is perfect storytelling. Dead on absolute perfect.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Panic Room, he would have paid . . .


Panic Room sets a new standard for this site. From now on, the dollar ratings system bumps up a notch. Fincher gets award winning performances from all of his principal actors and, we suspect, has hidden more stuff in this film than we caught the first time through. We have no doubts that we'll be sitting through Panic Room again and again.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.