Panic Room (2002)
I’ve finally watched all of director David Fincher’s movies with the viewing of Panic Room. I’m glad this was the last one to watch and not, say, Alien 3, which they often use to torture confessions out of criminal suspects.
Jodie Foster and a cute as a button, pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart as her daughter move into the largest, most awesome New York City brownstone. Foster as Meg Altman, buys the place because she wants to piss off her rich ex-husband. Stewart as Sarah likes it because she can ride her razor scooter on all the hardwood floors (they must have killed an entire forest just for those floors). Aside from all the acreage, the brownstone, once the home of a wealthy recluse, contains the titular panic room, basically a large steel box encased in concrete where a family can ride out a home invasion, or flee from unbearable holiday guests. There’s food, water, a toilet (yay!), a separate phone line and cameras that cover most of the house's rooms. The only thing missing is a comfy cough and HBO.
After a long day of unpacking and a couple slices of New York pizza, the Altman Girls call it an evening. And soon after, out of the dark and stormy night, come the biggest New York roaches you’ve ever seen, in the form of Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakum as burglars intent on getting rich without really trying. They break into the house, and Jodie and Kristen high tail it into the panic room. The problem is, what the roaches want is IN the panic room.
In the hands of a lesser director than Fincher this material might really have come off really dull, like a play spread across two sets. A good chunk of the movie is Jodie and Kristen in the one little room, while Forest and company have the run of the house. Fincher had the genius, and probably expensive, idea to use digital effects to aid in the sweeping camera movements through the large brownstone set. For example the camera starts on a sleeping Jodie, pulls back through her third floor bedroom, out the door and BETWEEN the stair posts, craning down to the first floor, moving to another room’s windows. A bit later the camera tracks across the kitchen, over the island, THROUGH the handle of a coffee pot, under the cabinets and over to a window where Jared Leto is peeking in. Fincher’s roving camera moves between and through floors, and snakes past partially open doors to access rooms. It’s cool without stopping and drawing attention to itself, which is what good special effects do.
The story by David Koepp is another variation of the Die Hard or Alien formulas (which weren’t new with either of those movies) where a small group of people is trapped in a confined space against greater odds, and the hero has to outwit them. And Jodie is the perfect actress for the part. She always comes across as smart and resourceful in her roles, and now with an onscreen daughter to protect, you really do not want to mess with her. One similarity to Die Hard really stuck out. Bruce Willis' John McClane was in an office bathroom freshening up when the terrorists seized the building; not only is he wearing just a "wife beater" t-shirt, but he's barefoot. Jodie and Kristen are sleeping when their house is broken into, so they are caught in a similar state of dress, pajamas and bare feet versus Forest and his men's multiple layers of clothing and heavy boots. It's a nice contrast that makes the bad men look even larger compared to the petite women.
I kept having this thought about teaming Jodie together with another hot mama you don’t mess with: Sigourney Weaver. Jodie Foster and Sigourney Weaver kicking all kinds of ass (human or alien, or both, it don’t matter) a la Thelma and Louise. Are you listening Hollywood?