Phone Booth, from 2002, is an annoying movie in that falls into a classic trope/trap that some people seem to like but that for me saps all the joy out of a story – the ominscient villain. This is the bad guy who is always several steps ahead of the hero / victim. The one in the story in which whenever the hero/victim makes any sort of positive move and seems to be gaining ground on his adversary, it turns out it was just part of the villain’s plan anyway. I guess it’s meant to be scary or suspenseful or whatever, and in limited doses it can be, but when taken to extremes it drives me bonkers.
In this movie, whose main feet is to tell a story in which a guy really is standing in a phone booth for almost the entire time, Colin Farrell plays some self-absorbed jerk whom our omni-villain decides to “teach a lesson” by trapping him in a phone booth, while talking to him on the phone and threatening him with a high-powered rifle. Of course, this baddie has researched him for weeks and knows every detail about his life, including his marital transgressions. He puts him into increasingly impossible situations, including making it appear to the police that he has shot someone and poses a danger to everyone around him. (The police, of course, cannot tell the difference between someone who has been shot with a gun at close range and someone who has been shot with a high-powered rifle from across the street.) The purpose of all this turns out to be to force Farrell’s character into some sort of emotional and relational catharsis where he is compelled to come clean about every bad things he’s ever done or imagined doing, so that he can be a better man, or something. Then the bad guy senselessly murders a poor pizza delivery guy so that he can, for about half an hour, fool everyone into thinking he’s dead. He even acknowledges that he felt bad about this, failing to note I guess that it was unnecessary, and that all he had to do to avoid arrest was just leave a few minutes earlier. But of course we couldn’t have that because then he wouldn’t get to brutally murder someone and allow for some sort of faux-shocking twist at the end.
This villain is played by Kiefer Sutherland, who for the most of the movie is only a really loud voice on the phone (much louder than Farrell’s, in fact). He turns up lurking around Farrell’s ambulance at the end, to deliver his obnoxious sermonizing moral and that above-mentioned faux-shocking twist, and to confirm to everyone that he really is that awesome, because look, he fooled everyone. Of course, now Farrell’s character knows what he looks like, so it may have been a tactical blunder.
It was possibly a tactical blunder on the part of the film maker to cast Sutherland at all, since his voice is so distinctive that any regular movie-goers would certainly recognize him, and not be fooled at all by the dead pizza guy. But maybe they didn’t really care about making that ending truly surprising. I guess with the way it was all playing out that even if they had kept the appearance of the sniper a true mystery, I still would have been far more surprised if he hadn’t turned up alive at the end that when he did.
There is also an awful lot of cursing in this film, which is I guess what Movie Ratings are for, but I still find it needlessly distracting and more childish than adult.
To the movie’s credit, it does manage to tell a story where a guy is in a phone booth most of the time, and it kept it gripping and intense for that entire period. So it’s well made in that respect, but for me, annoying and manipulative. And unpleasant.
A bit uncertain at first, but in the end, clearly not a fan.