Our review of Panic Room: Special Edition, published May 3rd, 2004, is also available.
"I spent the last 12 years of my life building rooms like this specifically to keep out people like us."—Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Panic Room
Director David Fincher specializes in dark films. He's the guy behind the ever popular Fight Club, the creepy Se7en, and the fantastic thriller The Game. In 2002, Fincher returned to the thriller genre with Columbia's Panic Room. Nicole Kidman was originally slated to play the lead but had to drop out at the last minute due to an injury. Kidman's replacement was Oscar winner Jodie Foster (The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs) and a very skimpy tank top, leaving heterosexual males everywhere happy as basking clams. Panic Room was a modest success at the box office, and now comes to DVD care of Columbia as part of their "Superbit" line of DVDs.
Facts of the Case
Newly divorced Meg Altman (Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) are trying to start a new life together. After purchasing a fancy apartment in New York, the two find themselves in the lap of luxury. Aside of being spacious living quarters (with an elevator and multiple floors), their home also includes a "panic room." This unique feature is used if and when intruders enter the house—in the event of an emergency you ski-dattle into the room, hit the button and watch a huge, vault-like door close behind you. Inside the room are a dozen video monitors, food, water, reinforced concrete and steel walls, an outside phone line, and other personal effects to keep one safe. Since I've just explained what's in the panic room (and the fact that it's the film's title), how much do you want to bet that Meg and her daughter will end up inside its walls? When three burglars (Jared Leto, Forest Whitaker, and Dwight Yoakam) break into Meg's apartment, she dives for the panic room, sealing herself and her daughter inside. But what these men have come for isn't inside the rest of the house—it's inside the very room in which our heroes have sought refuge!
I liked Panic Room. I didn't love it, but I liked it a lot. As far as thrillers go, it works on the levels needed: mounting suspense and tight tension. It's not what I expected (though in all honesty, I didn't really know what to expect), and I think that's both a good thing and a bad thing; because Panic Room was directed by David Fincher, I think I was anticipating something a bit more…well, complicated. While Panic Room does have its fair share of intricacies, overall the story and plot isn't wholly original—the heroes lock themselves in a room and the bad guys want in. However, while it's no The Game (Fincher's best film by far), it is filled with its fair share of fun and thrills.
The screenplay by David Koepp (Spiderman) is filled with a lot of scary situations that are mostly grounded in reality. Sure, there are a few moments where suspension of disbelief must be implemented—a scene involving the lighting of gas in a room the size of my closet seems a bit of a stretch. However, even with its inconsistencies Panic Room seems to be a plausible cat-and-mouse thriller. I liked the idea of having the main heroes trapped in a tiny room while having to figure out how they're going to get rid of the intruders—this makes for a much more intimate and terse thriller. At one time or another everyone's been terrified of someone breaking into their home—their sanctuary—and Panic Room takes full advantage of these fears with wonderfully executed sequences.
The performances in this film are all very good. Jodie Foster—an actress who has made uninteresting movies yet is herself never uninteresting—plays Meg as a tough, resourceful woman who will do whatever it takes to keep her child safe. While the film doesn't linger long enough to give any of the actors deep character traits, Foster is still able to impress with her thoughtful eyes and concerned looks (does any actress in Hollywood do deeply frustrated better than her?). Forest Whitaker—a man who couldn't play true evil if his life depended on it—fares even better with his complex character Burnham. Burnham doesn't want to hurt anyone or cause mass destruction—he just wants what he came for, plain and simple. On the other end of the spectrum is Raoul (Yoakam), a disturbed thug who seems to be a loose cannon waiting to explode. Yoakam is one of the only country singers in recent memory who has made a smooth transition from song to screen. The comic relief comes in the form of Jared Leto (Fight Club) as the spastic Junior. His tirades and tantrums are the only levity in this darkly lit tale of urban terror.
Fincher imposes all of his trademark camera tricks on this film (the smooth camera moves, the dark cinematography, et cetera). While the movie isn't quite as good as Fincher's earlier efforts, it's still a lot of fun. In fact, the whole thing reminded me of Steven Soderbergh's remake of Ocean's Eleven—it's not going to be remembered as one of his greats, but it sure was a lot of fun. Panic Room can easily be lumped into this category as well. It's pretty fluffy and light in comparison to other Fincher movies (well, except Alien3…), though as a fun roller coaster ride it works splendidly. What more can you ask from a two-hour thriller?
Panic Room is a Columbia "Superbit" release that is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. I was mostly impressed with this transfer, but be warned—I don't think there's even a hit of color in this picture. Seemingly everything falls under the colors black, gray, or brown, with only the slightest amount of brightness showing up in the film. This is a very dark movie, which means there are a lot of black levels. Unfortunately, there were a few areas where detail wasn't as sharp as expected. Aside of a few minor squabbles about the blacks, overall this transfer is clean of any edge enhancement or other defects that might otherwise mar the image. This is a very passable picture, though I was expecting just a little bit more in the way of detail. Otherwise, this is a nice presentation by Columbia.
The soundtrack for Panic Room is presented in either Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or DTS Surround, both in English. Either of these tracks will serve the viewer well. Panic Room makes good use of directional effects throughout the entire length of the film. There are some wonderful uses of the rear speakers (especially during a thunderstorm scene), and the clarity on both the DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 track is excellent. Both tracks are clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. If I had to pick one track over the other, I might go with the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix—for some reason it just struck me as a bit more dynamic. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix in French, as well as French and English subtitles.
Holy crap! Raise the roof and get the party started, for this is the first ever "Superbit" DVD (not including the two-disc editions) to include actual, real live supplements! However, before you run off and have a coronary, be advised that the only extras Columbia decided to throw on this disc were a theatrical teaser for the film and a few cast and crew filmographies. Big whoop.
Columbia has done a nice job on this title, though I'm a little surprised that it wasn't given a hefty "special edition" overhaul. Maybe someday down the road we'll see a commentary track, deleted scenes, et cetera. Oh wait, this is Columbia we're talking about…I'm sure we'll definitely see a special edition ASAP! The movie itself is fun and entertaining, and the perfect date movie: scary but not gory!
Panic Room is free to go…if it can find the door out!
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