Phone Booth, 2002.
Directed by Joel Schumacher.
Starring Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker and Katie Holmes.
A man receives a call in a phone booth and realises that he is being watched.
Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a fast-talking publicist who has made a living out of lying. Stu seemingly has it all – money, a wife, nice suits, an aspiring actress who has taken a liking to him, and a career brushing shoulders with celebrities. But his house of lies has caught the attention of The Caller (Kiefer Sutherland), who contacts Stu in a phone booth in Manhattan and informs him that if he hangs up he will be killed.
The majority of Phone Booth takes place around this one location, with Stu trapped in the sights of a rifle and The Caller barking orders down the phone at him. When hookers and their pimp get involved, events spiral out of control and the pimp gets shot, alerting the attention of the police. Captain Ed Ramey (Forest Whitaker) responds, initially suspecting Stu to be the criminal but quickly realising that events aren’t quite as they seem.
Phone Booth, penned by Larry Cohen and directed by Joel Schumacher, is essentially a morality play. The Caller wants Stu to confess his sins, to strip him of his carefully articulated image and peel back the layers of lies until he comes clean with his wife about illicit desires to sleep with other women. It’s rather Hitchcockian in its approach, ensuring the action stays centred around one location and building an intriguing network of characters where every action has a reaction. Stu is trapped in a glass coffin, and Schumacher doesn’t allow us to leave his side.
The success of Phone Booth largely rides with Colin Farrell. It may only be an eighty minute film – which does breeze by – but Farrell is on-screen for the vast majority of that time. Thankfully, he delivers an incredible performance by taking an unlikeable character and forcing us to sympathise with his plight. He’s a man torn between relying on the validity of his lies and confessing to his wife the truth, forced at gunpoint to think fast and make fateful decisions. Farrell is given support by a sublime Forest Whitaker, who must establish a rapport with Farrell through subtle communication that deliberately doesn’t give the game away to The Caller. Finally, there’s Sutherland’s beautifully distinct voice, laced with cruelty and sardonic wit.
Phone Booth is a grippingly tense movie that primarily relies on razor sharp dialogue. The restricted location is used to maximum effect, and Stu is positioned in a believable situation that doesn’t rely on farfetched plot elements to keep him in place. It is ultimately a very simple story, but one that is told amazingly well.