Cinema surveillance images are loading at the bottom of the page

Phone booth - Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Joel Schumacher

Threat advisory: Elevated - Significant risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

Your life is on the line.

A phone call can change your life, but for one man it can also end it. Set entirely within and around the confines of a New York City phone booth, Phone booth follows Stu Sheperd (Colin Farrell), a low-rent media consultant who is trapped after being told by a caller - a serial killer (Kiefer Sutherland) with a sniper rifle - that he'll be shot dead if he hangs up. A sudden and shocking act of violence near the booth draws the attention of the police, who arrive backed with a small army of sharpshooters. They believe that Stu, not the unseen caller of whom they remain unaware, is the dangerous man with a gun.

The senior officer on the scene, Captain Ramey (Forest Whitaker), tries to talk Stu out of the booth. But unbeknownst to Ramey, his team, the media circus that has flocked to the site - and Stu's wife, Kelly (Radha Mitchell), and his client/prospective girlfriend, Pamela (Katie Holmes) - the caller has them all in his high-powered rifle sights. As afternoon turns into evening, Stu, the embodiment of an unethical, self-serving existence, must now undertake a sudden and unexpected moral evolution. He is emotionally stripped naked by the caller. Stu's lies, half-truths, and obfuscation no longer matter. Instead, he must dig deep into his soul, find his strength and attempt to outwit the caller, taking the game to an even more dangerous level.

Theatrical propaganda posters

Phone booth image

Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film thriller assassin terrorist phone call morality sniper

Persons of interest

  • Colin Farrell .... Stu Sheperd
  • Kiefer Sutherland .... The Caller
  • Forest Whitaker .... Captain Ed Ramey
  • Radha Mitchell .... Kelly Sheperd
  • Katie Holmes .... Pamela McFadden
  • Dell Yount .... Pizza Guy
  • Paula Jai Parker .... Felicia
  • Arian Waring Ash .... Corky
  • Tia Texada .... Asia
  • John Enos III .... Leon
  • Richard T Jones .... Sergeant Cole
  • Keith Nobbs .... Adam
  • Larry Cohen .... Screenwriter
  • Joel Schumacher .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Phone booth comes so close to being a good film that I am more annoyed with it than I am impressed with it. Here are the biggest problems:

  1. Voice-over. Voice-over is the first resort of the lazy writer because it's an easy way to tell the audience important information. "I was having a bad day when..."; "There are 47 ways to smile and only one way to frown..."; "When I walked into the bar the first thing I noticed was..." It doesn't matter what you say in voice-over or how you say it, it still comes across as a cheap and easy way to impart information. Film is about moving images and moving sounds: if you use voice-over you might as well be showing your holiday slides. In Phone booth the voice-over is that of the psychopath (Kiefer Sutherland) and to make matters worse, he sounds like he's sitting in a comfy chair in a dubbing booth on a studio lot rather than the other end of a phone in a seedy motel. The audio quality should be lower than that of the live action. It should be tinnier from coming through the tiny speakers of a public telephone, not like you're sitting next to the caller.
  2. Focus. Who is this story about: Stu the publicity agent or the psycho on the other end of the phone? One story is that of a player who becomes the played; the other is that of a bastard taking out his frustration on another bastard. Despite the fact that the cameras remain on Stu for most of the film, the voice-over is so insistent that it's hard to choose which character is the protagonist (goody) and which is the antagonist (baddy). This divides your attention, making it harder to empathise with either one. If you don't empathise with the main character then it doesn't matter what happens to them, you just don't care. I hazard the guess that Larry Cohen and Joel Schumacher were trying to let you empathise with the baddy of your choice but it doesn't work that way.
  3. Focus. There is no need for the camera to show anyone except Stu. In fact, this is the kind of film which you could shoot in one continuous take (à la Russian ark), which would place greater emphasis on this one character and his lack of information (the very thing he manipulates in his daily life) thus giving us, the audience, a greater feeling of his desperation, bringing us closer to the character, giving us a bigger emotional investment, making the film more rewarding. Had I been making this film - and this is a good technique for uncovering a film's flaws - I would have eliminated Kiefer Sutherland's character altogether. We don't need to know everything he says to Stu; we can all fill in the gaps in someone else's phone conversation. The first rule of scary movies (both horrors and thrillers) is "Don't turn on the lights". Kiefer's voice-over is the auditory equivalent of turning on the lights. Darkness is scary because our imagination conjures up the very thing that we fear most. Showing (or telling) us everything that's going on inhibits this process.
  4. Casting. Of course the pizza guy is not the caller. Dell Yount doesn't sound anything like Kiefer Sutherland. When they find the pizza guy's body you automatically know that there's a "twist" coming up and that the psycho has gotten away. Besides, you have to wonder why Jack Bauer has quit CTU, moved to New York and is shooting up the footpaths.

If you like Colin Farrell, you get to see him emoting and sweating all over the place. If you like thrillers, you'll be slightly disappointed. Could do better.

Security censorship classification

M (Frequent coarse language, medium level violence)

Surveillance time

85 minutes (1:25 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 22 May 2003

Cinema surveillance images

Phone booth imagePhone booth image
Phone booth imagePhone booth imagePhone booth imagePhone booth imagePhone booth imagePhone booth image
Phone booth imagePhone booth image

[ Return to top ]