VOD film review: Phone Booth
James R | On 27, Mar 2021
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes
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When it comes to single-location films, the smaller and more contained the location, the more effective it is. They don’t come much smaller than Phone Booth, a film that takes place almost entirely – yes – within a phone booth.
Stepping into that booth is Colin Farrell, who plays Stu, a PR slimeball with more interest in his own success than that of his clients. The booth is his way of speaking to a client he’s grooming to be his mistress without his wife finding out. But his routine is disrupted when the phone rings. On the other end? An anonymous sniper who threatens to pull a trigger unless Stu exposes his lies one by one and starts making amends.
Writer Larry Cohen crafts the scenario with just enough plausibility to get away with its absurd premise – from drip-feeding details of similar incidents in previous weeks to gradually upping the stakes by bringing in more collateral players, starting with sex workers and a pizza delivery guy and rising to Stu’s wife and a well-meaning cop. Director Joel Schumacher milks the material for every drop of tension available, ramping up the pace to keep the tension levels high, cutting in closer and closer to Stu’s face the more panicked he gets.
The result unfolds in practically real-time, which niftily adds an urgency to the suspense – even a slightly lacklustre epilogue can’t undo the fun of the preceding 80 minutes. All of this wouldn’t be possible, though, without a charismatic movie star in the frame and Colin Farrell is never less than magnetic. After working with Schumacher on Tigerland, it’s great to see them together again, with a trust and confidence that propels the narrative forward. Managing to make his publicist initially loathsome and increasingly sympathetic, he’s a masterful lens through which to see the script’s satirical takedown of the modern media age – and takes us along for the ride without missing a beat, whether that’s a laugh or a gasp.
Several years on, the premise and dialogue can feel a little dated, but it’s testament to the film’s stripped-down efficiency that you don’t think about it until after the credits have rolled – precisely the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle energy needed to fill the smallest of spaces with big screen excitement.
Phone Booth is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.