Pros:Good pacing. Good decision making.
Cons:Lacks the great themes to catapult it to great status.
The Bottom Line: A superb popcorn flick, featuring good pacing and smart thinking. Very enjoyable and satisfying throughout. Three of four stars.
**Warning! Mild Spoilers Ahead!**
Recommend this product?
The premise is simple. Man answers phone; will be shot if he hangs up. But telling a story from that premise is much trickier. Countless omissions or flaws could have easily dragged down this movie, but the script covers all the outs. Some of them take longer to get to (one in particular came late in the second act and added another dimension to the tale), but the small twists and turns fit nicely into the flow and pacing of the story.
The acting in "Phone Booth" is solid; the entire cast provides exactly what is needed. Colin Farrell is very good as the slick-talking publicist, and his transformation throughout the film is both believable and effective without going over the top. An impressive job considering he was probably on screen 80% of the movie. Kiefer Sutherland's almost gravelly voice is perfect for his nearly invisible role as the sniper. Forest Whitaker provides another good performance ("Panic Room") as a flawed and sympathetic gentle giant. Everyone else fits in dutifully. The hookers annoyed me, seeming over the top. Of course I've never been around NYC hookers, so maybe they do actually behave that way.
Technically, "Phone Booth" contained more originality than most flicks of this genre. I loved the picture-in-picture effects. Not only were they fun and refreshingly different, they were also a plot device, keeping you in the movie by holding you at the dramatic scene, yet simultaneously providing needed glimpses of other characters. The choice not to reveal Sutherland until the epilogue was perfect. It maintains tension by veiling the threat, and a hidden threat is almost always better than a visible one.
Speaking of maintaining tension, the length (80 minutes) of "Phone Booth" was a wise decision. Long movies are not inherently bad, but too many movies seem like they have been stretched out in order to hit the two hour time mark. "Phone Booth" did what it had to do and got out on top. It set the stage, introduced the necessary characters, then dove headlong into the suspense. The suspense held up via crisp pacing and the constant logical thinking of each character. All that led directly to the final act, which was both satisfying and entertaining.
Some will say that "Phone Booth" moralizes too much. I understand the argument, but disagree with it. What moralizing there is works because of its universal appeal to whatever inherent good humans possess. While Farrell's smooth yet deceitful character appeals on the surface, when the proverbial push comes to shove, no one truly wants to be that kind of person. Many people would welcome being forced into such brutal honesty, although preferably not under similar circumstances.