Phone Booth (2002)
Phone Booth: A New Genre Comes of Age: It's official: the gunpoint conversion movie is now its own genre. And while it feels new, it comes from one of the oldest and most revered traditions of our storytelling species. (Read Mercer Schuchardt, MetaPhilm)
The caller, like the God of the Old Testament who is the original caller, is invisible, all powerful, and known only by his voice and the effects of either his wrath or his blessing. Only if the caller is an all-knowing God can the audience make sense of what otherwise looks like completely random violence.
This film kept popping up on my recommended lists at Peerflix and Netflix so finally I got it without knowing much about it. It's so contrived and full of plot holes that it requires repeated suspensions of disbelief. There's too much profanity to no good end and the only characters of any substance are Colin Farrell's, Forrest Whitaker's cop and The Caller. The two women, in particular, are such ciphers that there's not much drama to the threat hanging over them. And Farrell's character is so off-putting initially that there's a strong temptation to let the tiger out of the cage.
However, if you stick with it a while, it does seem to be a religious allegory, of some sort or another. I was curious to see whether my own impressions were off-the-wall so Googled "phone booth sniper god" and found this essay which does jibe. I too was especially moved by the confession that Farrell gives and by what is a true moment of self-recognition and a heartfelt plea for forgiveness. What's especially interesting is that it is only under the pressure of The Caller's unrelenting gaze that this character begins to become the man he wishes he was. Likewise helpful is that he is not a moral monster and his sins are generally those that all of us are guilty of. None of us could withstand the gaze either.
In his new book, The Central Liberal Truth, Lawrence E. Harrison suggests that the most successful human cultures can be distinguished by two chief characteristics, the first is the faith that men have free will and that their fates rest in their own hand; the second the belief that men are, however, required to choose to conform to moral strictures. If we consider the Enlightenment and the various rationalist isms to be nothing more than the attempt to escape from morality, then we can look at the brutality of The Caller as necessary to get Farrell's attention and recall him to the fact that he is Observed and being judged on the basis of how well he loves his fellow men. That's why, as Farrell stands there, bloodied and battered about, the viewer can't help feeling his character has been given a great gift (as Clarence said to George Bailey, in somewhat parallel circumstances). He's been forced to stop and listen, afforded a look at himself as God sees him, and granted an opportunity to recast himself in greater accord with His Image.
The one problem I had with the film and the allegory is that The Caller obviously enjoys what he's doing. He's so emotionally invested in controlling Farrell that it somewhat diminishes the free will point nor can it really be reconciled with even the God of the Old Testament, who does not, after all, have fun with Abraham, Noah, Job, and Pharaoh.
That said, it's very much more thoughtful than the usual fare and certainly worth a viewing.
-INFO: Phone Booth (IMDB.com)
-FILMOGRAPHY: Joel Schumacher (IMDB.com)
-FILMOGRAPHY: Larry Cohen (IMDB.com)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Phone Booth (IMDB.com)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Phone Booth (MetaCritic)
-REVIEW: of Phone Booth (Jeffrey Overstreet, Looking Closer)
-REVIEW: of Phone Booth ( DAVID BRUCE, Hollywood Jesus)
-REVIEW: of Phone Booth (Steven D. Greydanus, Decent Films Guide)
-REVIEW: of Phone Booth (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
-REVIEW: of Phone Booth (James Berardinelli, Reel Views)
-INTERVIEW: When life and art collide: talking to Joel Schumacher about what happened when the real-life D.C. sniper crisis led to the postponed release of this month's Phone Booth, his movie about a fictional sniper (Interview, April 2003)
You gotta give this man props for creating a really enjoyable movie that only had one scene.
- Jan-10-2007, 19:19
Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd