David Fincher directs this long-awaited follow-up to his groundbreaking Fight Club, with Jodie Foster in her first lead role since 1999's Anna and the King. The story is deceptively simple: Imminent divorcee Meg (Foster) is gaining a boatload of a settlement and, with her bratty, diabetic daughter Sarah (newcomer Kristen Stewart), decides to buy a cavernous, four-story brownstone in Manhattan's upper west side. The night they move in, three burglars pay a visit, searching for an alleged $3 million hidden somewhere in the house. Meg and Sarah hightail it to the secret "panic room," an impenetrable safe room off the master bedroom - only to learn that the money is secreted inside the panic room as well. A game of cat and mouse ensues - only the mice are definitively trapped in one tiny room.
After a rocky start, Panic Room really picks up, surprises waiting at every turn. Fincher is the perfect director for this project, something that in the wrong hands could have turned into an Eric Roberts special, and while the plot is hardly the mindbender that Fight Club was, Fincher is able to keep most of the film's secrets under wraps until just the right time (though some of the twists are glaringly obvious from the get-go).
Foster (in a role originally given to Nicole Kidman) does a good job in the lead, but it's the burglars who steal the show. Played by Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, and Dwight Yoakam, the trio initially appear to be everyday thieves with a nugget of special knowledge, but slowly they reveal their true motives. It's this slow doling out of information - about characters, plot, and the house itself - that keeps you on edge, eyes glued to the screen for fear you could miss something. Fincher (working from a David Koepp script) is almost too clever about it.
When the burglars aren't center stage, Fincher's impressive photography - an extension of the macro/zoom/dolly shots he experimented with in Club - is dazzling. Long dolly shots traverse the entire house and snake through walls and ducts. It's art in motion.
Altogether, Panic Room earns the (dubious) distinction of being the best new film I've seen this year, a rollercoaster ride through the worst "first night" in a house ever experienced. And I thought I had problems with real estate!
Run time: 112 mins
In Theaters: Friday 29th March 2002
Box Office USA: $95.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $196.4M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Production compaines: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Hofflund/Polone, Indelible Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 138 Rotten: 44
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: David Fincher
Screenwriter: David Koepp
Starring: Jodie Foster as Meg Altman, Kristen Stewart as Sarah Altman, Forest Whitaker as Burnham, Dwight Yoakam as Raoul, Jared Leto as Junior, Patrick Bauchau as Stephen Altman, Ann Magnuson as Lydia Lynch, Ian Buchanan as Evan Kurlander, Andrew Kevin Walker as Sleepy Neighbor, Paul Schulze as Officer Keeney, Mel Rodriguez as Officer Morales, Richard Conant as SWAT Cop, Paul Simon as SWAT Cop, Victor Thrash as SWAT Cop, Ken Turner as SWAT Cop
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