Cold War hawks used to say that to make peace one must prepare for war. It’s a philosophy for those who like their weapons big, and their concrete thick and reinforced. It does wonders for the psyche. It makes you sweat.
“Panic Room” is an attempt to capture the same brand of American skittishness that originated in backyard bomb shelters and morphed into modern home security systems. Director David Fincher, whose credits include “Fight Club” and “Seven,” makes another stab at a unique description of the violence in America.
Unfortunately, “Panic Room,” billed as commentary on the trappings of paranoia in the late 20th century and designed to have the audience looking over their shoulders on the way home, disintegrates into a run-of-the-mill, weak-on-plot, action film.
The cast is strong, but a lack of quality dialogue hurts them. The performances are adequately entertaining but bland – panicked but not paranoid, nervous but not neurotic.
Jodie Foster plays Meg Altman, a recent divorcee whose husband split for a younger catch. She is already hurt and guarded when she moves with her daughter to a new home the previous owner had outfitted with a “panic room.” The room has four foot solid walls of concrete encased in steel, and contains all the comforts of home, including video surveillance, a buried phone line, its own ventilation system, supplies and even a chrome crapper in the corner.
During their first night in the house, the two are forced to barricade themselves in the room when three burglars break into the house. But what the villains want is in that room and they’ll do just about anything to get at it.
Foster is a veteran of psycho-emotional roles, winning an Oscar for her work as the tough-as-nails FBI agent in “Silence of the Lambs.” While she does a good job of portraying mild claustrophobia in “Panic Room,” the film affords little opportunity for character development and fails to delve into more interesting psychological connections with the room.
Forest Whitaker (Burnham ), ol’ Ghost Dog himself, plays one of the bad guys. Surprise, surprise, he’s the one that’s really a good guy deep down. Dwight Yoakam (Raoul), also a villain, steals the show (somebody thank Kris Kristofferson for blazing the country singer’s trail to the silver screen). Yoakam was a hit as the evildoer in Billy Bob Thornton’s “Slingblade” and brings the same vulgar look to bear on this film.
The only truly disappointing performance comes from Jared Leto (Junior). Despite coming off an intense performance in “Requiem for a Dream” he’s just too much of a pretty boy to look mean. The most appealing thing about his character was the good makeup work on some really nasty burn blisters he sustains.
The standard gunplay, explosions, beatings and harrowing getaways won’t turn your knuckles white, but they’ll hold your attention. Fincher again employs the impressive camera techniques and special effects used in “Fight Club,” zooming in from macro shots to micro details, affording audiences a unique perspective.
Despite the film’s entertainment value, however, Fincher fails to tap the same psychological nerves that he did in “Fight Club” and “Seven.” Now, perhaps more than ever, American’s are sweating about their security. We have incorporated paranoia into the collective psyche, but this film provides little insight into life within the walls.