What to say about Panic Room... to offer condolences to the cast and crew would be a blessing at best. A career change would not be out of order, or, at the very least, a change of agents for those involved.
Panic Room is an exercise in tedium of gargantuan proportions. As this reviewer watched this film, a decided itch overcame her, and she found herself wishing mightily that something... anything... would happen to make the proceedings race along with the swiftness of a river current to its ultimate conclusion. I am sorry to report that even the patience of Job would have been sorely tried by this lathering of icing on an already top heavy confection.
Jodie Foster is Meg Altman, a newly divorced mother of a precocious, diabetic teenage daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart), moves into a New York brownstone, complete with a built in 'panic room.' We are told that mom is going to be going back to school, and is attempting to build a new life for herself and Sarah, albeit without the interference from her wealthy ex, Stephen (Patrick Bauchau). While the panic room is touted as the end all by the real estate agents who show her the place, what no one realizes is that a set of ham fisted burglars will eventually attempt to short circuit the proceedings by setting a course of action to retrieve a safe buried within the confines of said room. The latter party is expecting no one to be in the townhouse as the last resident, an infirm, wealthy old man, has been moved out by his greedy relations. This scenario sets the stage for the entire film - a meeting of minds and the categorical destruction not only of the room, but a complete loss of credibility as perceived by this reviewer.
The burglars are composed of Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Junior (Jared Leto) and Raoul (Dwight Yoakum). Burham works for the security company that installed the panic room and Junior was a male nursing companion to the old man, whose confidence he finally gained and who eventually related to him the story of a secret safe in the room that holds a treasure. Raoul is a friend of Junior's, along for the ride, and as the film progresses, one mean character. To say that Leto plays a buffoon is putting it mildly, as he seems for all the world to possess the character of a hyperactive child who can't or won't see reason or logical conclusions. Yoakum is that blend of mad, bad and dangerous to know, but his impersonation of a thug with one goal in mind -- his own personal gratification -- has been seen a million times before in much better movies. Whitaker fares the best of this trio, and in fact, towers over the performance of Jodie Foster. He is a controlled force, and his world weary bear of a blue collar worker, reaching for the brass ring of instant money and gratification, is a set piece of characterization.
Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart are a matched pair and deserving of the chaos that prevails. Lately, the cinema has been blessed or some might say, cursed, with the prevalence of sassy, smarter than their years children. Ms. Stewart can readily accept membership to their class. Her performance tried to pull out all the stops for sympathy as she suffers a diabetic attack, but falls flat as her colour begins to pale and time becomes of the essence in order to stave off her demise. Foster's endeavour to portray a 'woman of action' hits the wall with a concerted thud, and if this role was an attempt to create a new persona for her career, the effort proves to be embarrassing.
About the only time I did feel sympathy was for the two uniformed New York policemen who come to the townhouse to check conditions after Foster's husband, Stephen, contacts them immediately after a frenzied and aborted phone call from her for help. The minutes as Foster speaks to the police in the door well of her home became like hours as they attempted to elicit information and this reviewer wished that some hint of action would ensue and hurry the proceedings along.
It was interesting to see how production values for Panic Room took a nosedive and how the simplest of researchable things were neglected for who knows, time constraints or budget concerns? A case in point is the storyline of propane gas used in the film rising in the panic room, when, in reality, the gas is quite heavy and would have fallen to the floor where Foster kept telling Stewart to stay and breathe. A minor point perhaps, but neglectful all the same.
The screenplay as written by David Koepp begins a meltdown midway though, as though he can't seem to find a method beyond the madness that he has created and a feasible and calculated end for the movie. A rising from what should be the end for Raoul after being beat with a sledgehammer in the face by Foster, is a tired conveyance for what was intended as suspense, but proved to be a yawner. It has been done to death so often and in much better films, that any intended semblance that was hoped for, such as 'oh my!' was completely and irreveribly, lost.
The cinematography by Conrad W. Hall, son of the late, famous Conrad L. Hall, is in worthy hands, though. He is an absolute credit to the production and the apple has not fallen far from the tree. His work is a joy to behold and his past credits, including, Se7en, Sleepy Hollow and Alien: Resurrection, among others, show his talents will go far if he continues to attract the best work he can.
There is a curious, small sidenote to be observed. Nicole Kidman does an uncredited voice cameo as the girlfriend of Stephen Altman who answers the phone in the dead of night when Meg calls for help. Interesting to say the least.
Panic Room is that film that had the highest of expectations, but like Icarus who flew too close to the sun on wings made of wax and fell into the sea for his vanity, so does this production. Pretentious would not be too strong a word.