Panic Room is a 2002 American motion-picture directed by David Fincher; best known for ‘Gone Girl’, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ and ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. It is basically about an epic struggle that Meg (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) go through in order to keep themselves safe from and a group of burglars who break into their new residence in New York in search of $3 Million in bearer bonds.
I hadn’t seen this film before this week; mainly because I wasn’t old enough to watch it when it came out and also it hasn’t been on my “must-see movies” bucket list. Having seen it now, I don’t think I’d go as far as saying that it should have been on my list but all the same, the plot of the film and how it was handled from beginning, middle and end was relatively okay; it presented that much needed watchability to it in spite of a number of flaws it bears. The movie made the most out of the story with most of the credit going to the stellar performance by Forest Whitaker; his character Burnham is pretty much the pivot to which this film spins around. He drew a lot of sympathy from me because he doesn’t harbor violent intentions that his colleagues do but has to be there at the house nonetheless since he was the best chance that the intruders had. Furthermore, he also really needed the money.
The latter is part of a group of thieves that include Junior (Jared Leto) and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) who are hell bent on stealing the money stashed somewhere in the panic room of Meg’s new house by whichever means possible. I liked the contrast in ideologies between Whitaker’s character and the other two; on one hand, Burnham has more rational and plausible ways of getting the family of two out of the secure room whereas Junior and Raoul half-heartedly piggyback on his ideas but suggest ‘modified’ ways of doing them which don’t always turn out well. Proof of this is when Burnham decides to channel cylinder gas through the ventilation system leading to the panic room so as to make Meg and Sarah uncomfortable enough to open the steel door. This is an idea that his other colleagues were on board on and which they ruined eventually in catastrophic fashion with Junior being in the thick of it all.
Jodie Foster’s character is one that elicited a see-saw effect on me. There are moments where I felt Meg was in control of the situation because she was the only source of solace for her daughter although sometimes, she doesn’t live up to what she should be all about. Both Sarah and Meg took turns at being the more mature of the two in the nail-biting situation; a factor which I found quite odd and I think you’d possibly agree with me on the issue. Meg should have been on the steering wheel all through; especially during the first conversation they have with the robbers via the public announcement system. Kristen Stewart’s character tells her mom “Say Fuck”, which she does and then again Sarah tells her mom “ Say get the fuck out of my house”, which she does as well and in the most lethargic, uneventful and unintimidating way possible. Ideally, Sarah should have known what to say in that situation and thus it made her character less appealing to me. Need I even mention the fact that she almost put her and her daughter’s life in clear danger after igniting a fire in a vent which had filled with flammable gas that was already in the panic room in the first place? By doing that she added more fuel to a fire that her character was on, pun intended, but she does try to put it out couple of times with some heroic thinking, for instance the telephone cable connection scene where she was primarily trying to reach out to the authorities, but opted for Sarah’s father instead.
The tense scenarios in this movie are considerably hair-raising; none more so than when Meg saw a window of opportunity to get her phone and went for it but unfortunately knocked over a lamp which made a noise loud enough to alert the burglars. I genuinely felt that there was a strong possibility that she wouldn’t make it back in time and that’s an aspect of this David Fincher project that I loved a lot.
From a critical point of view, the faults that this movie bears are not the “slide under the rug’ type; noticeable though not to be ignored. It utilizes the use of intense close-up shots in scenes where either the burglars or the trapped females are devising something. Some of the shots do their job and bring you closer to the situation at hand, which is good i.e. the gas release through the ventilation system nevertheless, there are some that are just unnecessary i.e. when the camera panned into a torch and highlighted its lighting mechanism as Sarah is signaling to a neighbor for help. Secondly, despite the fact that Burnham knows everything about the house because he participated in its construction, I found it hard to believe that he could read almost every single move that Sarah and Meg were setting in motion. This aspect did take a slight sting out of my investment in the Whitaker’s character but I was on his corner notwithstanding.
To sum up, if indeed you are a fan of David Fincher’s work to date and find intrigue in photoplays with star-studded characters like Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and even a young Kristen Stewart, then Panic Room is a must-watch for you in case you haven’t seen it already. However, from a personal perspective, it wasn’t a must-watch although I am glad I stumbled upon it.