I love real time stories. To me, having a story take place in real time gives a story a sense of realism, that makes what unfolds feel more real, and thus more intense. Though in many ways, they are the most difficult to pull off, because it’s natural to want to cut out extraneous moments, and being completely realistic could end up creating dead spots that kill the pacing. This film does not do that.
Stuck in development hell for decades, even the great Alfred Hitchcock was interested in directing this at one point, this film follows a haughty publicist (played by Colin Farrell), who is toying with infidelity, and then out of nowhere, finds himself at the mercy of a sniper, played terrifyingly by Kiefer Sutherland just riding off of the success of similarly formatted 24, who tells him that if he hangs up the phone or leaves the phone booth, he will put a bullet in his head. What follows is one of the most tense phone calls ever made.
The film’s format may seem restricting, but amazingly the film takes advantage of every opportunity. I too was skeptical that a film could be made on this premise. It might’ve worked for a TV show, but a full-length feature? I can understand some of the uneasiness of that, but honestly, it never felt like it was grasping for straws, it just played along like a series of events.
The film feels incredibly short, and that’s because it is, but I mean that in the best possible way. Whenever I watch it, it always goes by so quickly, and that means that it is entertaining me. Some may argue that could be a potential problem, because the film does barely scrape feature length, but honestly the film takes advantage of so many opportunities and is aware that it can only go so far, and as a result it ends at just the right moment, before the gimmick wears out.
Colin Farrell is really good in this role, able to elevate from playing a slimeball into a sympathetic character we want to see get out of his situation. And the character’s evolution throughout the story is never forced and is believable, and a lot of credit has to be given to Farrell.
What really sticks it for me though is how intense the film is. The first time I saw it, I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen, and the fact that we can’t see the sniper, creates a feeling of anticipation and dread. We are constantly waiting for something to happen, and it still managed to surprise me. The film’s tension builds and continues building until its eventual payoff, which is well earned, and satisfying. This is quite curious, as the infamous Joel Schumacher was the man in the director’s chair. Go figure.
Though its plot and format will be polarizing to some people, I found Phone Booth to be an incredibly intense, original and daunting film that stayed with me long after it was over, despite its short runtime. This is both real time and minimalism filmmaking done to the fullest potential.