David Fincher was certainly going to have to come up with something special to top 'Fight Club', which in my book was one of the top five films of the 90's.
To his credit, the director doesn't even really try to match the visceral effects and strong message of his previous outing and, instead, concentrates on an old fashioned thriller, very much in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock
Although nowhere near as eye popping as 'Se7en' or 'Fight Club', the opening credits are a truly wonderful creation - with the titles being plastered across famous New York locations. Make the most of this view of the Big Apple, with it's bird's eye views of sky scrapers, because in no time at all, Fincher has us trapped in (almost) a single room for the rest of the film.
Jodie Foster (replacing an injured Nicole Kidman), plays Meg Altman, a recently divorced mother of one, who moves into a huge townhouse in Manhattan's trendy upper west side. As the movie's title suggests, the house is fitted with a specially designed 'panic room', complete with it's own telephone system, CCTV, ventilation system and thick steel walls. Oh - and it's also got several million dollars hidden in a safe too.......
With barely time to get settled in (and certainly no time to connect the panic room's telephone line), Meg and her daughter find themselves blockaded in the room whilst three intruders try their best to get inside and at the money.
As far as plots go, it's hardly original, but the main players more than make up for the (fairly frequent) clichés that pop up from time to time. Yes, we get the somewhat claustrophobic mother who begins to feel the pressure of being a prisoner in her own home, we also get the diabetic daughter whose condition deteriorates the longer the siege continues... but we also get some fantastic three way play between the intruders - Leto plays the 'brains' behind the operation: fast talking and fast thinking (well, when compared to the others anyway!). Whitaker plays the level-headed co-conspirator who doesn't want to hurt anybody and just wants the money to build his family better life. And Yoakam provides the best character of all - Raoul, a total psychotic, always seen in his balaclava. Let's see more of Yoakam in the movies - please!
The interaction between these three (admittedly stereotyped) intruders is truly what raises this movie above a standard Made-For-TV Thriller By Numbers, so much so that I found myself sometimes forgetting about the mother and daughter in the Panic Room, because these characters became much more interesting.
True to form, Fincher can't resist a few flashy tricks (witness the way the camera melts through walls and ceilings) but, by and large, he tends to keep most of his cinematic pyrotechnics under control as he tries to ratchet up the tension.
And that's where I found the movie lacking somewhat. The tension never really got to boiling point - Exciting, yes. Nerve wracking, no. The sense of claustrophobia is not exploited as well as it could have been, which is surprising considering all of the action takes place in a single house. Fincher tries his best with a few sterling set pieces - look out for the gas and mobile phone scenes, but, generally, I felt the tension just fell flat.
That's not to say it's a bad film, it's as exciting a thriller as you're likely to see all summer . But it's also a testament to Mr. Hitchcock that one of our generation's finest film makers tried his best at a 'Rear Window' for the new millennium, employing the best of 21st century technology , and fell considerably short.
Rating - 6/10