Shot on the hoof in 10 days for less than $2 million, Phone Booth finds the irrepressible Joel Schumacher back on blistering form after the brain-dead Bad Company, turning this B-movie into a lean, tense thriller and providing a masterclass in guerrilla film-making along the way.
For the opening 10 minutes, we witness vile, self-obsessed publicist Stu (Farrell) striding through Times Square at full throttle, blackmailing, cajoling and flattering magazine editors on his mobile before heading to a particular phone booth where, at the same time every day, he calls one of his clients—an aspiring actress he’s desperately trying to fuck behind his wife’s back.
By this point, Stu’s proved himself to be such a smarmy, eminently punchable little shit that you’re on your knees praying for someone to take him out. Which is about when Stu takes a call from a man claiming to have a rifle trained on him, who’ll kill him if he hangs up the phone. When a bystander gets shot and Stu is implicated, half of New York’s finest plus attendant media vultures begin circling the booth, trying to get Stu to hang up and hand himself in…
Postponed in the US from its original November 2002 release after the sniper shootings around Washington, DC, Phone Booth is a sleek, supremely manipulative and highly effective movie. It’s to Schumacher’s credit he keeps the film’s length down to a minimum—there’s no back story, no sub-plots to string out this, the slightest of ideas. The cross-processed film stock (Soderbergh meets Fincher) contributes to the edgy atmosphere, while Schumacher’s restless, hand-held cameras and split-screen techniques constantly jack the pace up and gloss over the narrative flaws. Farrell—who worked with Schumacher previously on Tigerland—gives an impressively nervy performance, playing fast and loose with Stu’s moral standards, gradually winning the audience over as his life falls apart.
Hitchcock apparently once considered making a film set entirely in a phone booth. You can be sure it would have been a lot tricksier and more sadistic than this, but Schumacher has made a fine, fun popcorn movie all the same.