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"Panic Room"

Directed by David Fincher.
Written by David Koepp ("Carlito's Way", "Snake Eyes").
Starring Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker and Kristen Stewart. 
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  4/1/02 

[This is the 27th film I have seen this year.  So, with Q1 of the year completed, The Drive for 100 is right on track.  Don't hate--appreciate!]


What's really interesting to me about the release of "Panic Room" is two distinct pieces of information.

1) Jodie Foster is the star of "Panic Room", but I can with 99% certainty tell you that Nicole Kidman was originally scheduled to star in this film until she was injured early in production on the film.  If someone knows otherwise, let me know...but, I am pretty sure this is what happened.  I wonder if I would have liked this film if Kidman had actually starred in it...

2) The trailer for this film is very good, but in a shocking move, no mention is made of the director of the film, David Fincher.  Usually, if a star director is attached, then a studio will use that person's name to promote the film.  Since Fincher has directed "Se7en", "The Game" and "Fight Club", this is something peculiar.

Also worth noting is that this film is really damned good!  Foster stars as a just-separated mother that decides to move into a ridiculously-large brownstone in Manhattan that has all the fixins of a nice townhouse with one additional treat: a secured-access control room called a "panic room" that allows for the house's owner to use surveillance to monitor everything going on in the house should intruders get inside.  This is really helpful, since three robbers (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam) show up looking to rob the house the night after the mother moves in.  What these criminals are looking to rob is inside the panic room.

This is the premise, and it is not an interesting one.  What is amazing is how well Fincher draws out this much suspense from a plot that looks like a one-trick pony.  All of the above takes place in the first 20 minutes of the, how will he make two people hiding in a surveillance room be interesting?  I won't give anything away, but I will say that he had my near-sellout audience tonight howling and gasping more than a couple times.  And, by keeping things simple, Fincher takes us on the ride with only five characters (the four mentioned, plus the mother's daughter, played by Kristen Stewart) and one set, that of the house where all the action takes place.  The film isn't scary so much as eerie...the house is so large and so empty, every footstep resonates in the theater.  But, the film has three or four very violent sequences that, along with its language, earn it the R rating...nothing "Saving Private Ryan"-style, but violent nonetheless.

Fincher also benefits from an incredible performance by Foster.  Where have you been, Jodie?  After "Anna and the King" (two words: atrocious), I thought that Ms. Foster would retire from acting.  But she is straight monstrous in this film, reminding us that roles in "The Accused" and "The Silence of the Lambs" were no fluke.  Stewart's character (the daughter) also provided me with her own distraction for about the first 30 minutes of the film:  is that a girl or a boy?  I seriously could not figure it out!  Definitely the winner of the "It's Pat!" award so far in the 2-double-oh-2.

But, this is another great effort by one of Hollywood's truly great visionaries of the moment.  This doesn't top "Se7en" for me (my favorite of Fincher's so far), but it comes pretty close.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


Comments?  Drop me a line at


Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09