Tuesday, January 22

Adventures in Jodie Fostering: Panic Room

I have been thinking a lot about Panic Room and Zodiac, so this has more to do with David Fincher, and less to do with Jodie Foster. Although I might admit that the "I am single" speech at the Golden Globes gave the viewing that extra push. 

I had first seen Panic Room in a theater it in its first run in 2002, and I'm glad to say that it does hold up to scrutiny and remains terribly scary even when watching on a smaller screen. Perhaps the more contained dimension helps in cramping up the space even more than the 6x14 feet of the titular safe room. 

All we need to know happens in the first few minutes: a recently divorced mother checks out new dwellings with her young daughter. On their first night, three burglars break in looking for the millions allegedly stashed in the safe room. The contained location becomes the crucible for all the action. Everything happens in one night, in that house, and mostly inside and the immediate environs of the panic room. 

What's interesting to watch in Panic Room is how David Fincher and the script by David Koepp were able to negotiate the balances of power between the intruders and the homeowners, managing it mostly by who is inside or outside that three feet thick steel door, and then having it escalate to matters of life and death. 

I also love it that the entire movie is summed up in a couple of exchanges. The first one was when Meg realized there were other people in the house and makes a run for her daughter's room. "What's happening?" The barely awake Sarah asks while they race to the panic room. "Pinball, in a house," Meg says. Which is true. A core of five (or six, or eight) people bouncing around the house, trying to force each other to open or slam doors. 

Then there's conversation waged over the security camera monitors. Jared Leto's Junior holds up a series of handwritten signs to tell Meg what their intentions are: "What we want is in that room." Junior figures out that women crave security, so he adds: "We will let you go." Even young Sarah knows this was a total lie, so she tells her mother to tell the invaders off. "We're not coming out. We're not letting you in." It's still not tough enough for Sarah so she tells Meg, "Say 'fuck'." Meg swears, but in the right way, so she has to repeat it for emphasis. "Get the fuck out of my house." That is the entire movie in a nutshell: Shit is going to go down if they don't do as she says. 

Also interesting for me this time around is the relationship between Jodie Foster's divorcee mother and daughter, a really young Kristen Stewart, several lifetimes before she became Bella Swan or became known as KStew. Hell, the first time around, I didn't even know Kristen Stewart was the kid in the picture. Her Sarah is pretty much a tomboy, with her androgynous haircut and even advising her mother to swear to let the burglars know she means business. Yet, Sarah is pretty much the vulnerable child, spurring her mother to abandon the safety of the panic room so she could get her child's medication.  

Then I read elsewhere that Nicole Kidman was originally cast to play the mother, and Stewart was cast to play off her: the daughter as antithesis to the helpless, glamourous mother. But Kidman had a knee injury from Moulin Rouge and had to leave. When Foster came on board, the role of Meg was rewritten to make her tougher, and more similar to her daughter. What even complicated the shoot more was that Foster found out she was pregnant five weeks into the shooting. But I have to say there is sheer joy in watching mother and daughter interact. 

Although some people might say that the story is pretty thin, I think it just can't get any tighter than that. I would even venture to say that Panic Room is way better than similar movies during its time (Phonebooth with Colin Farrell comes to mind) or even later--I'm thinking of Liam Neeson's Taken movies, but that "Harm my family and I swear to hell you'll pay for it" revenge theme comparison might be better suited to later Jodie Foster movies like Flightplan and The Brave One, which I totally intend to watch because it promises to be sheer good fun. I have a feeling that Jodie Foster makes for a better action star than Tom Cruise or even Angelina Jolie. We'll see. 

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