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Panic Room (David Fincher) 2002

    David Fincherís Panic Room isnít nearly the great film that his Fight Club was, but it wouldnít stun me if the director never made a film that good again. Panicís opening scenes, in which the cat and mouse game that dominates the film is meticulously set up for the audience, bothered me initially, because they seemed to be telegraphing everything that was to come so obviously. Weíre given a tour of the premises, the medical history of the lead characters, and an extensive explanation of the motivations of the crooks that start the trouble. Once the filmís devious plot really took off, however, I realized that since the director was so obviously playing a game with the audience, he kept the oppressive urban angst that dominated his Seven from settling in. The drab green and gray color palette and closed set where nearly all of the action takes place are so imposing though, that it seems only natural that they make protagonist Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) claustrophobic. A recent divorcee, her life seems to be so determinedly getting back on track that things are bound to go wrong.


      Since the plot is nearly disposable here, in what is an extended exercise in style, itís fortunate that Fincherís a helmer with a better sense of style than most. Once Meg realizes she has uninvited visitors in her home, the suspense level ratchets up a few notches and rarely settles back down. Using CGI effects to allow impossible tracking shots, Fincher maintains a consistent sense of space, making the proximity of the danger always palpable. Floorboards fade, walls disappear, and bullet wounds let loose a fountain of blood thanks to the digital effects, but the effects are almost always used to further an audienceís understanding of the game thatís being played. Perhaps even more impressive than the visuals is the filmís sound design, which does as much as the visuals do to raise tension levels. Technically, the movie is impeccable. Less impressive, however, is some of the acting (particularly Jared Leto), as well as the scriptís passing insistence that one of the white crooks only wants the bounty that heís after while the black thief needs it. Otherwise, Panic Room represents a state of the art example of solid Hollywood filmmaking. If the movie pales a bit in comparison to the best of De Palmaís fabulously empty thrillers, it should be noted that not even De Palma himself seems capable of hitting his old heights these days. 

* * * 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman