If a public phone was ringing on a busy street and you were passing, would you answer it?
If you did and the caller told you if you hung up you would be shot and gave you ample evidence to suggest the threat would be carried out, what would you do?
This is the interesting premise of this Joel Schumacher directed film with principal photography completed in only ten days (an average movie would take forty days).
Stu Shephard (Colin Farrell) plays the sharp suited publicist who talks loud, lies as a matter of course and generally treats everyone who can’t help him, as figurative gum on his stylish brogues.
This attitude extends to his wife (Radha Mitchell) who is playing second fiddle to his new plaything, actress wannabe Pam (Katie Holmes). No extra curricular activity has actually taken place but the desire to cheat with Pam, is deemed crime enough for our hidden killer to choose Stu as his third target.
Stu uses the same public phone every day to phone Pam but on this occasion as he leaves, the phone rings and he answers (bad move) just as a pizza delivery arrives for him. Pizza guy gets the full usual Stu verbal treatment and the movie proper starts.
The voice of the killer (Kiefer Sutherland) taunts Stu throughout the movie, gradually publicly extorting Stu’s lies and confessions, in exchange for not shooting him, his wife, girlfriend or the police as the crime scene builds.
The police arrive following the killing of a pimp that Stu is attacked by and believe the dead mans hookers (acted with colourful exuberance) assurances that he, not some hidden force is the killer. Captain Ramey (Forest Whitaker) controls the crime scene searching for clues as to the reason for the bizarre scenario he is presented with, dead man in street, man in phone box refusing to hang up or explain why he must stay on the line.
Whitakers role seems underwritten and rushed, his own demons haunting his moves in a very superficial manner, which belies Whitaker’s usual acting talents. Some of his lines are real duds and the exchanges between him and Stu are not as convincing as they should be. Ramey is also forced to fight for jurisdiction between the usual hostage expert and trigger happy SWAT team, which is almost a staple ingredient of US police movies these days.
Sutherland plays menacing very well and though he has very brief actual screen time, he dominates scenes despite total reliance on his voice acting only.
For such a movie, the whole project will live or die on the performance of the main actor (Farrell), who is in virtually every scene of this short (78 minutes) film. Farrell again acquits himself well, not perhaps a classic performance but certainly the tension is built well with some scenes being completed in long takes, which adds to the immediacy.
Quite why Stu’s “crimes” were not beefed up is a mystery, I guess we have to feel sympathy for his predicament and that could have been lost if the audience sees him as a lost cause. On the basis of his faults there would certainly be a steady stream of victims for the killer.
Mention must be made of whether a film with such a premise can still be looked upon as entertainment – (this film was completed prior to the US Sniper incidents) When real life innocent bystanders are shot whilst they conduct their daily business by high powered sniper rifles, it is difficult to see whether documentary and Hollywood movies can coexist on such subjects.
As is usual with the movies, nothing is what it seems, set in New York the film was completed in Los Angeles though whether even a New Yorker could tell, would be debatable. There are several references to the fact that Stu will not be gunned down by the police as there are too many cameras around, both amateur and News stations. Is this now recognised as the only way to keep law enforcement honest and professional or is this just the movies?
A highly enjoyable modern thriller & morality play with an interesting central premise. A slightly extended shoot might have added necessary polish to a few key scenes but Farrell again proves he is well worth watching. Despite this, we are still waiting for “the one” film which will show whether Farrell has what it takes, to be an A-list superstar.