MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Thriller/Stars: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakum, Jared Leto, Ann Magnuson, Patrick Bauchau, Paul Schulze; Voice of: Nicole Kidman/Runtime: 112 minutes
As a film reviewer of some degree of skill and talent, I find it safe to admit that I consider myself a bit of a walking contradiction at times. This is because on one hand, there are quite a few thrillers I adore that require no significant, if any, brain power to appreciate. Merely pop some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the show. Plain and simple. On the other hand however, there are moments where I find myself sitting back and wanting an entry in the thriller genre that perhaps has a bit more intelligence than some of its peers. The reason I bring this up is because I am thankful for the existence of such slices of cinematic pie as 2002’s Panic Room since they are movies that are exactly the kind that I am talking about. Sure there are a few moments here and there where you may find yourself hurling advice to the characters on screen, but thankfully this is not as big an issue as it might be in other movies of a similar ilk since the characters are aware of what you might be thinking and are already either 2-3 steps ahead of the curve or questioning just why they didn’t come up with what another character just pulled off in a way that feels refreshingly realistic. More than that though, this slice of cinematic pie helmed by iconic film helmer David Fincher and penned by iconic scribe/ occasional director David Koepp, is able to distinguish itself not only in how intelligent it is, but also in how it manages to feel quite remarkably like a cinematic game of strategy in that that we get to see the movie set up both its characters and location much in the same vein as a game board and the pieces on said board before our eyes, and the rules and objectives for both sides are swiftly set up. Those key components having been put in place, we see that not only is the game afoot, but we are also able to quickly establish that the winner will plain and simply be the party that has the better plan up their sleeve. As a result, we see that minor flaws aside, this riveting and very well cast entry in the home invasion subgenre of movie magic is able to prove a rivetingly good time because of this realism and because it makes the highly appreciated choice to not insult you, the viewer and actually try to be a film that is fairly realistic and intelligent for once.
The plot is as follows: Panic Room opens its riveting yarn on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as we see a recently divorced woman by the name of Meg and her diabetic daughter Sarah are in the final stages of purchasing a huge new brownstone to live in. Sure this home is simply too massive for just the two of them, but since it’s both absolutely beautiful and it’s our heroine’s divorce settlement paying for it why not? Of course in case you were worried that the rest of this movie was just going to be these 2 women eating pizza, and moping on just how much the man who used to be a part of their lives did them wrong then please take heart: this is most assuredly not that kind of movie. This is because we soon that late in the night a trinity of men sneakily and effectively orchestrate a home robbery. It would seem that this house’s previous inhabitant was a wealthy eccentric who recently passed away and now, as typical in such affairs, his relatives are squabbling over his stuff which by and large has been hidden by the old man due to that very reason. It is also why we see that his grandson, a young man by the name of Junior, suspects that there is quite the pretty penny to be gained from contents that may be found in a panic room set up by the deceased. A panic room that incidentally is set up in the master bedroom of the house our two female protagonists are now residing in. Unaware the house is new ownership however, we see Junior recruit the man, a guy named Burnham, who designed the panic room into a scheme to break in and get the money out. Along with Burnham however, we also see Junior bring into the criminal fold an enigmatic and trigger-happy guy named Raoul in the off chance that something might go awry, but why would it because after all the house is totally deserted…..not. Of course by the time this trinity realize their error, we see that Meg has scooped up her daughter and, instinctually, gone into the panic room not knowing that’s exactly where the criminals desperately need to get into. Thus what has begun as a simple home invasion has now turned into a deadly chess match that, despite possessing completely different goals, neither side can really afford to lose and as such both find that they must be willing to do just about anything in order to come out the victor….
Now in regards to the work done by the talent behind the camera, I will say that the first big positive that this movie has going for it is the fact that this movie is the recipient of a brilliant and riveting script penned by David Koepp (Secret Window, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Stir of Echoes, and countless others). Indeed normally in a home invasion movie, the fact that the family knows the house better than the robbers is the thing that ultimately saves the day….and is something that we have seen all a million times before thus becoming incredibly predictable. Thus in this film, we see that Koepp makes the ingenious choice to reverse that and have the robbers be infinitely more familiar with the house than the owner. As a result not only does it help to distinguish this movie from the rest of the pack as it were, but it also raises the stakes and suspense immensely whilst making you really wonder just how in the world our main protagonist is going to keep her and her daughter safe. The other big positive that this movie has going for it is the fact that it has iconic film director David Fincher at the helm. Indeed known for always bring a distinctly bleak and grim yet always energetic vibe to a lot of the movies he has helmed, Fincher proves to be a brilliant choice to bring this unorthodox spin on the home invasion narrative to life. A feat he manages to achieve quite beautifully through a riveting and thrilling atmosphere that, more often than not, is beautifully accentuated by Fincher’s distinct flair for stylish yet downright suspenseful intervals featuring our heroines’ initial attempts to make their way to the titular room before they are snatched up by the trinity of crooks which do a wonderful job of setting a bar for the rest of the movie to match. Yet lest you think the rest of the movie is not up to snuff, I can thankfully say this is most assuredly not the case as this film does give audiences more than its fair share of just as taut and riveting moments especially when it comes to the climax that helps to make sure the movie wraps up on a beat that is as riveting and visceral as possible.
Now I will say that although the primary cast in this all do wonderful work with their respective parts, there are two people whose work I think deserve perhaps a bit more mention than the others. The first of these is Jodie Foster who is absolutely fantastic in the lead role of Meg. Indeed Foster manages to do a wonderful job of giving us a woman who yes starts out slightly bitter and cynical due to her recent separation from her husband due to him taking up with a younger woman. Yet when our trinity of robbers decide to make the lives of her and her daughter into a living nightmare, we see this woman is able to rise from her cynical stupor and turn into someone who will stop at nothing to keep both her and her daughter safe no matter what the cost. Suffice it to say it is one heck of a physically and psychologically powerful performance and Foster just nails it through and through in the way that only a performer of her caliber can do and do extremely well at that. The other performance that I think is significantly worthy of mention is the always wonderful Forest Whitaker as Burnham. This is because whilst yes Dwight Yoakum and Jared Leto do fine as Raoul and Junior they are also playing archetypes in the form of the trigger-friendly hot headed thug and the self-centered yet completely out of his element trust fund brat willing to do anything to get a slice of the pie that he feels he has “rightfully earned” respectively. Burnham on the other hand not only feels a lot more like an actual human being, but also acts a lot more like an actual person would in this situation. Sure he’s there trying to rob Meg and her daughter and sure he does his fair share to make their lives difficult, but he also has a reason for doing it that is fairly relatable and plus he also isn’t entirely onboard with the ever-changing to fit the circumstances plan his reluctant cohorts seem to be working with. Thus Whitaker does a wonderful job at taking a character that could easily have been just as much an archetype as the other two antagonists in this and instead fleshing him out and giving him not only dimension and much-needed characterization, but also his own arc in the grand scheme of things as well.
All in all is this some of the best work that iconic film helmer David Fincher has ever sought fit to present us as movie goers with? Honestly no. If you’re looking for that might I recommend such gems as Gone Girl, Zodiac, Fight Club, a movie that I won’t reveal because I’m reviewing it later this week and I’d rather not ruin the surprise, The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and of course Se7en. On the other hand, is this a terrible movie by any means? Absolutely not. If anything, this is one that is very much in line with a movie Fincher did in 1997 called The Game in that both movies are fairly riveting and engaging whilst also not being immediately iconic. With that in mind, sure Panic Room might have its fair share of peculiarities about it and 3 of the 5 main characters might function more as archetypes we’ve seen a million times before in movies of a similar ilk. At the same time though, this is still very well-written, very competently helmed, fairly thrilling, wonderfully intelligent, and comes equipped with performances from Jodie Foster and Forest Whitaker that are simply terrific. Thus Panic Room “02” might not be the say all, end all home invasion movie, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a watch or 2. As for whether or not you choose to watch this with a trinity of home invaders that is one thing which I of course leave entirely up to you. On a scale of 1-5 I give Panic Room “02” a solid 3.5 out of 5.