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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

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My name:  Brian Martin

Panic Room (2002), directed by David Fincher

Panic Room -

I guess you have to like a girl who, in stressful  situations, calms down by reciting the names of Beatles albums in chronological order, even if she does start with Help!. The girl, Sarah, the teenage daughter of recently divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster), has every reason to freak out: three criminals have invaded their home, and, while she and her mother appear to be safe in the panic room, she's diabetic, her blood sugar is running low, and the insulin she needs to save her life is on the other side of the door.


They should have known better. Don't they watch movies? Dustin Hoffman, in Marathon Man, literally has to run for his life before the movie is over; James Stewart has only a big Rear Window to look out of, so of course a murder occurs across the courtyard; even the Beatles, in Yellow Submarine, must use their musical talent to defeat the bad guys. That's the way it works. Whatever defines you or makes you different is going to be important. And having a panic room definitely makes you different. (Indeed, I take solace in knowing that as soon as someone makes a movie about me, I will finally discover the value of procrastination.)


Meg and Sarah may not have understood this, but fortunately screenwriter David Koepp did -- because the best movies make it all seem perfectly reasonable. Koepp wasn't quite able to do this, but he comes pretty close. The break-in occurs on Meg and Sarah's first night in their new home. Off-setting a coincidence of truly gargantuan proportion, it turns out that the house (it's part brownstone, part townhouse, which the realtor says they call a "townstone") was owned by a reclusive millionaire who died without telling anyone where he'd hidden his money. One of the criminals, however, a former assistant to the millionaire, knows exactly where it is: in a safe...under the floor...in the panic room.


I'm awfully slow sometimes. When Meg, using a PA system inside the panic room, asks what they want, the criminals -- they are assistant Junior (Jared Leto), psycho Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), and financially-strapped good guy Burnham (Forest Whitaker) -- tell her what they want is in that very room. I wondered why Meg didn't offer to give it to them herself. It wasn't until much, much later that I realized that, to Meg, what they were saying meant that they wanted her and her daughter. Would have been bad form to provide that, I suppose.


This is the second time I've seen this film and I liked it better this time, though I can't for the life of me tell you what's changed. Maybe I was simply less critical. You kinda do have to take a step back with this movie, and not just because of the panic room. The whole set-up plays out the way it does only because absolutely all the stars align just so. The criminals, to give you one example, aren't three faces of the same beast.  No, each brings his own knowledge or ability to the party. If any one of them weren't there, the story would have changed dramatically.


But it's clever. The cat-and-mouse game between Meg and Sarah and the criminals is fun to watch, especially since Meg is bright enough to play the cat. Foster, who got the part when Nicole Kidman was unable to play it due to an injury, is very good, and she's always believable as an intelligent, resourceful woman. Kristen Stewart doesn't have a great deal to do as Sarah, but she handles it well. And Forest Whitaker makes things interesting on the other side of the door. David Fincher's direction, too, keeps it tight and suspenseful for the most part.


One word of advice, though: if you find yourself thinking too much while watching this film, take a breath, and say to yourself, "Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night..."