Panic Room (2002)

(In theaters, April 2002) David Fincher is one of the few dependable directors out there, and Panic Room is another good example of why he’s always worth a look. In this case, like in The Game, he takes a script with a few serious problems and transforms it in a technically polished piece of suspense moviemaking that elevates the material to a mesmerizing level. From a film-geek’s point of view, Panic Room is a lovable demonstration of skill, from an effective simple-but-ominous credit sequence to a boffo “camera-flying-around-the-house” CGI/composite shot to a wonderful mute slow-motion sequence maybe halfway through the film. His camera angles are always effective, the editing is top notch, the spatial location of everything is clearly established and the overall atmosphere of the film is as claustrophobic as it should be. But, ah-ha, what about the humans in the film? Acting-wise, everything works; Jodie Foster is rather bland, but she -as with everyone else- turns in a good performance. The biggest problem with Panic Room, though, is illustrated by the fact that the film’s most sympathetic characters is one of the nominal “villains”. There isn’t much reason to care for the protagonist besides the obvious (they’re female, weak, without weapons and afflicted by an illness) and some promising character traits (like the heroine’s claustrophobia and/or myopia) are forgotten in mid-film. The late appearance of a rather useless character raises far more questions than it settles. Ultimately, though, the intellectual cat-and-mouse game between characters and Fincher’s technical prowess are more than enough to make Panic Room a commendable choice. But it’s too bad that with only a little more script work, this could have been a classic rather than merely a good thriller.

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