Panic Room

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Fincher's First Failure - Panic Room

Sep 21, 2002
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Done well enough to keep one engaged.

Cons:Poor story, poor thrills, DVD not worth the money.

The Bottom Line: Beyond the fact that the movie wasn't what I expected it to be - the DVD isn't worth the price by offering no special features.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

David Fincher has no one but himself to blame when it comes to why Panic Room is quite the dud that it is. Much talk has already surfaced on the small inconsequential facts surrounding the quick replacement of Nicole Kidman with Jodie Foster – and Foster’s quick exit from being a judge from the Cannes Film Festival as a result. The blame could lie with the lackluster writing by David Koepp (Death Becomes Her, Jurassic Park, Spider-Man) – but still Fincher didn’t have to make this movie. He could have gone on making great movies full of craft and creativity – instead of becoming nothing more than a Hollywood puppet. But Fincher did direct Panic Room – his worst directorial creation ever – that is perhaps until we see what he does with Mission Impossible 3 (tentative release for 2004).

I normally hold Fincher in the highest regards. Alien3 may not have been as good as its predecessors – but Fincher followed that movie up with three of the most creative and thrilling movies seen in a long time. Se7en, The Game, and Fight Club. Each of those three had a simple premise – but Fincher has the ability to draw his characters outside of their frames and make audience not only feel entertained but also feel enlightened. A story that requires conversations long after its presented. A feeling – that is all but gone from Panic Room. I believe part of the absence lies in the fact that Panic Room ends on a high note – instead of on a question. In a way, Panic Room is too much of a cookie-cutter Hollywood thriller – a sign perhaps of Fincher’s fall.

Panic Room is about Meg Altman/Jodie Foster who is on the mend from a failed marriage to Stephen Altman/Patrick Bauchau (of NBC’s The Pretender fame) that has benefited her from desiring one of those really expensive houses in New York. Along with her daughter Sarah Altman/Kristen Stewart they find themselves at a house that seems perfect – hardwood floors, lots of rooms, large kitchen – until Meg realizes that the master bedroom is smaller than it should be. The reduction in size is due to a specially designed room – a panic room – designed with steel walls, video cameras, and enough supplies for any situation, especially if you find yourself under a house invasion.

Anyone who has seen the trailers know by now that the panic room must be used in a sort of panic – so the first part of the movie is all but expected. The story is set up that the previous owner was some really rich guy who died and has left his estate to be fought over by his living relatives. So the first part of the movie is basically designed to introduce the fact that a panic room exists and that there are some bad guys who may want in. And so, during the first night Meg and Sarah find themselves the target of what will make up the remaining portion of the film.

What we get is not only expected – but also very uncreative. On one side we have a burglar who is also a highly trained security expert, but also a father with a hard of gold – Burnham/Forest Whitaker, then we have the mastermind – who is missing a master over his own mind, Junior/Jared Leto, and finally some guy who is introduced simply because he’s unknown to us and to many of the characters who also holds an unexpected edge Raoul/Dwight Yoakam.

What follows are a bunch of scenarios that seem to be dead-ends – but circumstances that allow both the good guys and the bad guys to prosper. Some of which that will make just about any viewer yell out at the screen “don’t go downstairs!”, “watch out for the glass!”, “don’t do that” – but all that start and end before we get any amount of attachment.

Such was the need for example to heighten both the tension and the music score when the two characters attempt to contact help by using Morse code. For one, who knows Morse code these days – and even worse the character that does says she learned it by watching James Cameron’s Titanic, a small blooper since Morse code was never used in Titanic – CQC was. And in the movie’s best attempt at humor – once the tables are turned – the video cameras that allow someone inside the panic room to see the entire house are destroyed with one character turning to the other and saying “now, why didn’t we think of that?” Why didn’t you indeed. I mean it wasn’t like these cameras were state of the art pieces of equipment buried deep in the walls or ceiling. They were these rather large camera devices very plainly protruding out – and yet for most of the movie they remain intact.

Fincher however retains some of his craft – but envisioning what some may dream to see by editing his movie to flow through confines only accomplished by a heightened sense of special effects. Once Meg and Sarah are trapped in the panic room – he doesn’t have much to do. So during those scenes where they think about what they could do – Fincher follows that train of thought to not only allow us to hear what could be done – but to see the thought processes that may lead to that conclusion. He creates this feeling by his sly use of editing and computer effects by allowing the camera to flow over counter tops, through chairs, passing through the smallest of places or through walls – ending up on an object that concludes the original thought. Fight Club is the best example of this style – since within the first few moments of the movie the camera flows up through Norton’s body, out his mouth, and out of the gun held in his mouth.

But unlike Fight Club – Fincher doesn’t make a bad movie with Panic Room – he just makes a movie that doesn’t seem to fit – him. I cannot, not recommend Panic Room because it was a disappointment to me – but I can since it was simply a disappointment from what I expected from Fincher.

Panic Room just didn’t have the thrills I expected. I kept trying as the movie progressed and I even kept that belief until the final moments. But in the end it wasn’t what I expected – but is still a good thriller if one is looking for a good thriller.

As for the acting – Jodie Foster does the deed as her experience is expected, but nothing unlike I think any other actress could have done. This is not a starring role – one that makes me think if I was female and in her same position, I would have gone on to be a judge for a film festival, than to be in this movie. But at the same time, I know that Fincher had quite a name going for him and it is in hindsight that I declare that previous statement. Without a doubt one cannot think of the what will be or the what would have been’s since they cannot be changed. This is one wrong turn Jodie made – worse than not continuing on her Oscar winning performance in the Silence of the Lambs establishment. It may have been just as bad – but at least we know and can say that it was that bad of a decision..

Speaking of bad – the DVD version may have a special feature called Superbit that is touted on the outside plastic – one of which does indeed make the picture look really good – but overall the DVD is just as much of a disappointment as the movie was. There are no special features. I know that many DVD’s fill themselves up with special features that no one may care about – but at least giving people an option speaks volumes. Panic Room on DVD offers nothing. No special features unless you think that a preview of the same movie you are about to watch/watched is a special feature. There is the typical nice computer effects between the various menus – but in the end when one is comparing prices to other DVD’s, Panic Room offers nothing more than just the movie. And, not a good enough one to recommend someone pay full price for it.


Recommend this product? No


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