Walk; Don't Run to the Panic Room

Panic Room (2002)
Director: David Koepp
Screenplay: David Koepp
Cinematography: Conrad W. Hall & Darius Khondji
Starring: Jodie Foster, Forrest Whittaker, Kristin Stewart

After four grueling years at MIT and another five as a management consultant, I have mastered but one task in life, the act of asking why. Why does V=IR? Why does nearly every company want replicate all its legacy data into the new IT system? And, alas why was David Koepp paid nearly 4 million dollars for his Panic Room script?

This question seems an appropriate point to begin deconstructing the highly anticipated new release. The answer of why pay such a high premium leads to a more interesting discussion about why the need for a modern day adventure that primarily takes place in a 4 story, 4000 square foot Upper West Side Manhattan home. And, at the risk of sounding somewhat trite in my analysis, why is there a need for a mature contemporary Home Alone?

It’s important to note that as a body of work, the vast majority of David Fincher’s career could be viewed as mature contemporary remakes. Seven is the quintessential film noir murder mystery. The Game is a film representation of “The Most Dangerous Game” and Fight Club is the timeless tale of male coming-of-age story with an intense progressive twist. The impetus behind these cinematic successes was well-defined characters and fully realized depictions. As a viewer, we were so enraptured with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in Seven; we didn’t dwell too persistently on the dated narrative framework. In many ways, the minimal structure served as a backdrop, consequently allowing character development to dominate the foreground. The same analysis can be superimposed on Fight Club. Though the protagonists were intellectually unilateral, character development drove the film through fruition. In both cases, the result was an impressionable engaging cinematic experience.

In Panic Room, the trite construction is predicated on the lack of feasibility, which further exacerbates the film’s ineffectiveness. As an audience, we have to accept that a four-story, 4000 square foot townhouse/brownstone hybrid (townstone) equipped with elevator and a panic room in Manhattan. It just happens to be available when Meg Altman and her 11-year old daughter are looking to relocate. This townstone also just happens to serve as residence for millions of undiscovered dollars. And, three individuals in search of the handsome purse just happen to decide break into the home the first night the Altman duo are present. Some 25 minutes into the film, the appetite for depth begins to surface? What’s going to be in the panic room? What’s going to happen to the recent divorcee (Jodie Foster) and her outgoing direct child (Kristin Stewart)? An attuned viewer could potentially see opportunity for character transition. A solid story about a tepid middle aged woman still somewhat in the prime of her life traversing a crossroads of sorts. However, what unfolds is a unique visual introspection through a banal narrative void. Fear not, there’s no rush to Panic. As a customary moviegoer, you know the routine.

April 8, 2002
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