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PHONE BOOTH (article first published : 2003-08-15)

Brad Pitt, Jim Carrey, Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg ... all, at one stage or another, were said to have committed to this relatively low-budget thriller which, under the direction of Joel Schumacher, has finally hit the screen with Irish charmer Colin Farrell as the lead.

Shot nearly three years ago in New York, Phone Booths release was initially shelved to allow Farrell - who, at the time, had made only one other film, Tigerland - to build up a higher public profile. Then, seven months ago, when the movie was set for its US release, its release was delayed again as a result of plot similarities with a motiveless murder spree by snipers in Washington.

Cleverly and tautly scripted by Larry Cohen, the film was shot over 11 days, on the street behind Broadway's Ed Sullivan Theatre. It centres on a slick, super-smooth, motor-mouth publicist, Stu Shepard (Farrell with convincing Brooklyn accent), who gets a lot more than he bargains for when he enters one of the Big Apple's last working phone booths.

Stu visits the booth on a regular basis to chat up a young actress (Katie Holmes) whom he's trying to bed. And the reason he doesn't call her on his cellphone is because he is married and doesn't want his wife (Radha Mitchell) to catch him out.

On completing his latest call, the phone in the booth rings and he answers it. The voice on the other end belongs to an intelligent and articulate sniper who scares Stu with how much he knows about him and his indiscretions - and who threatens to shoot him if he hangs up.

And so begins an outpouring of tension and fear, and even some satire.

Farrell turns in the best performance of his career as a loathsome man, initially cocky and confident, who tries to reason with the sniper but who slowly loses control. And, while sweating through his life-or-death scenario, he is forced to do some soul searching.

Stu finds his dangerous situation exacerbated when the cops arrive after the sniper fatally shoots someone - and Stu is looked upon as the killer, his seeming obsession with refusing to leave the booth giving the cops (headed by Forrest Whitaker) reason to believe he is unhinged and dangerous.

Tense, clever and well directed, with stylish and effective use of the split-screen technique, Phone Booth is one of the surprise delights of the month. It's riveting stuff - all 81 minutes of it, played out in real time. Rating 8/10 Billy Suter




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