"Isn't it funny? You hear a phone ringing and it could be anybody. But a ringing phone has to be answered, doesn't it?"
In the city of New York, there are over 20 million people. More than half that number live in Manhattan. There are enough active personal telephones to supply every one of those people regardless of income or age with their own telephone. Of those numbers, there are over 12 million active personal phones in the range of cellphones, text messengers, and mobile computers that can access the phone lines. With all of this personal communication, there remain over 250,000 active pay phones in New York City. And they handle nearly eight million phone calls a day. Nearly all of them are wall or kiosk phones that accept credit cards or phone cards and few are changed over to the latest tech until someone does damage to them, making it cost effective to replace them.
On this street, in a side area of Manhattan, stands the last phone booth. The old technology. It doesn't take credit or phone cards, only change, making it the last wholly anonymous phone line in the city. You can call from here to anywhere and no one will know who you are. The local phone company is planning to remove it and replace it with a kiosk by the end of this week.
Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell: MINORITY REPORT, DAREDEVIL) is a new Yorker on the move, in that he has no office except the sky. His self appointed job is as a publicist for nobodies. Like any publicist, his job is to make somebodies out of nobodies. He keeps moving, walking down the streets of New York. Moving toward his next appointment and away from his last one. He uses two cell phones simultaneously. One for his secretary Adam (Keith Nobbs), who handles his calls and carries around a PDA to keep track of everything, and a second cell phone to actually talk to people. This allows him to run his business as if he was a professional with an office and staff. None of which he owns. What he does have is a nice Italian suit. He also wears an expensive $2,000 dollar watch, or at least it looks like one. But he needs these accoutrements to impress upon people that he is a man on the move and a success.
And the only way a publicist can be a success is by handling successful clients.
"The first step to being noticed is being mentioned."
So everyday is a non-stop busy business of taking calls, holding calls, calling people back, and making deals. Stu makes deals with people who have no respect or regard for him. His value is in who he represents. So like every publicist he builds his clients up. It's a thankless job. His clients are second and third tier wannabe nobodies with grande delusions, no respect, and short tempers. The various magazines that Stu wants to carry his clients don't think much of him or his stable unless he drops hints that some other high-powered magazine wants what Stu has. In this world of celebrity manufacture, Stu's clients are only important if somebody else wants them.
It quickly becomes apparent that Stu is a nobody with little education and a fast mouth and quicker brain. He hurts no one and he's playing the game. Even better, he is just starting to get a handle on how to win the game.
He gives his secretary some money to get some good clothes and heads to the last phone booth in New York to make a private call.
Because Stu is a creature of habit. He goes to that same phone booth at the same time every day.
Someone has noticed Stu. They've noticed his habit. And once he is in that phone booth, at that precise moment, in that precise place, he is under the microscope.
He makes a phone call to a non client of his. A girl named Pam (Katie Holmes: DISTURBING BEHAVIOR, THE GIFT) who impresses him because she seems to be impressed with him. She thinks he is special and that makes Stu feel special. So he calls her from a phone booth where no one can trace his call. If he can seduce her, it would be his very first affair with a groupie, and isn't that a sign of success?
Pam is timid, however and Stu decides not to push it. Pam requires slow convincing not fast talking and that's out of Stu's league right now. He hangs up and a pizza man (Dell Yount) starts knocking on the door. He tells Stu that he has his pizza. Stu doesn't know what he's talking about. Pizza delivery to a phone booth? The delivery man is insistent, Stu gets angry and finally cusses him out. The delivery man leaves, worriedly looking up at the sky.
Stu gathers his stuff in the booth and starts to leave. The phone rings. Stu decides to answer it.
The voice on the other end tells him that he should have taken the pizza because he is going to need his strength. Stu doesn't get it. The man plays word games with him and Stu is about to hang up on the idiot. Then the caller starts telling Stu personal information: Information that no stranger would know about Stuart Shepard. He knows that Stu has a wife and that her name is Kelly (Radha Mitchell: PITCH BLACK). The caller toys with Stuart some more until Stu is once again ready to leave. Then the caller tells Stu that he has a high powered rifle aimed at him with a high powered scope. Stu tests him and at least the man has a high powered scope. Stu tests him further and a red laser dot appears on his chest, and crawls up to his head.
For the remainder of PHONE BOOTH, Stu is trapped. Trapped by a man who obviously has enough wealth to spend his time picking victims out of the vast sea of humans moving back and forth through the city of New York. The caller can afford state of the art encryption devices to keep his call from being traced. He can afford expensive sniper equipment. And he can afford to randomly pick Stu out of the masses and spend his days devoting attention to Stu and how Stu runs his life. Stu is a poor kid from the Bronx who is trying to better himself without preying on people or resorting to violent crime. And that just sticks in the craw of the caller.
People who physically get too close to Stu get shot. In the excitement and fear of the moment, bystanders think that Stu is the killer and the cops soon have him surrounded. The cops call out the SWAT teams and everyone is pointing to Stu in the phone booth as the killer. The SWAT team is on edge. IF anyone fires a shot at all the first thing the police will do is open fire on the phone booth with Stu inside. Stu knows this. So does the caller.
"By the time they realize you don't have a weapon and that it couldn't have been you, I'll be long gone," The caller says.
The hidden caller may kill innocent people around Stu, but he finds Stu guilty of being dismissive to his fellow man. Something the caller feels is inhuman. So Stu must put himself back down to where he started and stay there. He must never try to rise above his "station". But no matter what Stu says or does, the caller might change his mind and change the rules. Because the caller is a calm psychopath and this is his idea of fun. And because he has convinced himself that he is good and Stu is evil, what chance can Stu have against such twisted malevolence?
The movie runs, as you watch it, flawlessly. Director Joel Schumacher (THE LOST BOYS, FLATLINERS, A TIME TO KILL, 8MM, VERONICA GUERIN) has had his ups and downs as a director, but working together with a main cast that he has successfully worked with in the past seems to give assured confidence in this movie. The pace, which is everything, moves with deft precision. In the script by legendary Larry Cohen (Created the X-Files precursor movie, THE INVADERS in the 1960s. The TV series that launched the whole idea of a vast government UFO consipracy, DADDY'S GONE A-HUNTING, SCREAM BABY SCREAM, IT'S ALIVE, GOD TOLD ME TO, FULL MOON HIGH, Q, THE STUFF, MANIAC COP, UNCLE SAM) there are few minor plot holes, ommissions of logic in the actions of those present, but those can also be explained away by the stress and exhaustion of the people trapped in the moment.
I really enjoyed this movie. PHONE BOOTH crackles with rare energy and that can be attributed to the following triumverate -
Forest Whitaker (TAG, BODY SNATCHERS, SPECIES, BATTLEFIELD EARTH, PANIC ROOM), as Police officer Capt. Ramey. Under immediate high tension panic situations, he has to decide if Stu is a threat, like witnesses say, or a victim.
Keifer Sutherland (STAND BY ME, THE LOST BOYS, FLATLINERS, A FEW GOOD MEN, THE VANISHING [USA], EYE FOR AN EYE, A TIME TO KILL, ARMITAGE III, DARK CITY), as the Caller: Every movie goer knows that voice.
And last and best, Colin Farrell. Because Stu has to carry the movie nearly as a one man act for the entire film (and for that reason, many other actors turned it down). Stu, in Colin's body, has to go from confident to defiant to broken and make it believable all within a single setting: The phone booth.
4 Shriek Girls
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