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The Film

   This movie has an online cover Panic Room (2002)
Directed By: David Fincher


View Count: 4
Last Viewed:2004.06.27
Last/Last Reviewed:2004.06.27/2004.06.10

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When the movie starts, you know something special is coming. The opening credits are made out of oversized chiselled marble letter, very elegantly designed, floating in the air above amidst beautiful shots of New York streets and buildings. It reminded me of the main titles for North By Northwest, although much more modern and technically advanced of course. I love those credits so much that every now and then, i pop in the DVD just to watch them. And the movie does look beautiful. David Fincher does love to get long shots where his camera goes through all sorts of objects, and his camera is still the most precise thing you'll ever see, paying attention to even the most minute details to enrich the story. He started that with Fight Club and continues this style here. Even if he overdoes it a little, it remains quite fun, and he manages to get a few laughs out of me on occasions. Being a Fincher fan though, it does feels like a deja-vu: he needs to upgrade his bag of tricks.

A woman in her late 30's (Jodie Foster) and her young teen daughter move into a gorgeous, luxurious, brownstone in the New York upper west side after a divorce. This house used to belong to an eccentric millionaire who is rumored to have hidden, before he died, a large portion of his fortune somewhere. The house itself has a strong personality. It contains an elaborate security system that focuses on a "Panic Room", an impenetrable in-house bunker so that the occupants can hide there in safety in case of danger, until the police arrives. On the first night they move in, a group of men break in. Junior (Jared Leto) used to be a close aide to the dead millionaire and knows where the money is. Burnham (Forest Whitaker) is an employee in the company that built the security system for the house. Raoul (Dwight Yoakam, in a very scary performance here) is just a weird, psycho, character Junior just brought in to help. What follows is a game of chess between the 2 camps, a cat and mouse chase in this house, between the mother and her daughter, and the 3 burglars.

And what a fantastic game of chess it is. The writing in this movie, highlighted by the great direction, is simply fantastic. I really love how the story is all edge-of-your-seat strategy from beginning to end and seeing how the upper hand jumps between the two camps back and forth. The only quibble i have is that this otherwise captivating movie loses its rhythm once or twice, and that breaks what could have otherwise been quite a non-stop roller coaster ride. This is not a major issue in my view, but i do understand how some people might have disconnected and as a result, not stayed with the movie all the way through. I, for one, had enough on my plate regarding other technical aspects of the movie, that if the development slowed down, my brain was still kept very busy. Another point is also how the story gets quite violent, quite rapidly, about mid movie. I have heard people saying that it got too tough. However, i believe that what you cringe about is more the circumstances in the story, the suspens that builds up, the haunting music that underscores the tension on display, and the motivations of the characters leading to violence, rather than the violence itself. This is more like Fight Club in this respect than Seven, which was quite graphical, on purpose. Here, what gets to people is the tension between the characters, and how the story quickly shifts and evolves in very unerving ways.

Smartly written, without characters doing any obvious stupid things besides what their personality compels them to do, you understand very quickly after they enter the stage of the movie how each of them will fit in the story strategically, what important role they will have, and which decisive actions they will eventually all have to take. I always love how fast Fincher manages to quickly and precisely establish his characters. In "Panic Room", we are treated to several levels of tensions here, between every single character on top of just between the 2 camps. I much appreciated how those various dynamics were exposed. It is an intricate situation that we get privy to for almost 2 hours.

The performances are all pretty much very good, with a special kudos to Dwight Yoakam for creating a character that is instantaneously creepy from the first minute he appears on screen. It is strange to me that he hasn't done more movies than he has. The editing and art direction are wonderful too. To be noted, the music is good, but never reaches the mood setting extremes found in other Finch movies like Fight Club or Seven. It almost gets there once or twice (the gas explosion, the cell phone and the final confrontation scenes), but it is never sustained to create that kind of a mood that the movie deserves.

This is a typical Fincher movie in all respects, with great cinematography, imaginative camera work, and a script that keeps on surprising you over and over again. The special effects are visually impressive, in traditional Fincher fashion. All in all, this is a very enjoyable movie that have already seen 3 times. Each time, i feel like it's the first time i watch it, and each time, i discover additional details i had missed before. The movie does very well with repeated viewings in my opinion. It only suffers from 2 minor faults. First, Fincher reuses too many visual tricks from previous endeavors to make it a complete new experience like other movies of his. Second, twice, the movie stagnates for a few minutes, just enough for some people I know to have disconnected and never reconnected with the movie. Every Fincher fan should appreciate this movie though, and others can only be surprised by the overall quality of this movie, and the cool story on display.

Finally, if you are interested in a quick course on film making, then you hould grab the 3-disk special edition DVD that came out in early 2004, even if you already own the superbit edition that came out in 2003. The movie looks and sounds fantastic, and the extra material is fascinating. The many documentaries are very well done and approachable. For the curious in you, do yourself a favor, and spend the few hours on the extra material. This is one amazing special edition that will show you everything you ever wanted to know about this movie, and at the same time, teach you a lot about the process of movie making, with lots of technical nuggets.

- Laurent Hasson