June 21, 2002 
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Panic Room
Here comes Jodie's supermom
Foster makes Panic Room worth a watch

Vivek Fernandes

There is no denying that David Fincher is a master storyteller.

His past films, Seven (Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow), The Game (Michael Douglas, Sean Penn), and The Fight Club (Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter) have gone on to become quasi cult classics of our times.

So, as the stylised title credits with the actors' names in bold lettering float atop skyscrapers announcing Panic Room, you are already anticipating serious excitement.

Enter recently divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her adolescent cheeky offspring Sarah (Kristen Stewart), who are on their way to inspect new lodgings. This is a spacious mansion in the heart of Manhattan with more rooms than a mother and daughter could ever need. Besides the sprawling landings, staircases and elevator, the USP of this house is a little secret chamber concealed behind the mirrors of the master bedroom.

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Designed to keep intruders out, the hideaway is fortified by concrete, four-inch thick steel-plated walls and a door that is almost impenetrable. The 'panic room' has its own ventilation system, an independent telephone line and video cameras that capture every corner of the house.

Though Meg is a spooked by the room, Sarah's enthusiasm wins her over and the house is theirs.

Now three assailants break into the mansion on the same day the mother and daughter move in. This is not before director Fincher uses camera and computer SFX to take us on a flying carpet ride through the nether regions of the house. This he does to convey to the viewer a better sense of the building's geography --- which proves helpful as the action centres here for the next 90-odd minutes.

Panic Room The intruders: the desperate-but-kind Burnham (Forest Whitaker); the nervous Junior (Jared Leto) and the masked Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), whom Junior invites along much to Burnham's surprise --- are here to locate booty worth millions concealed by the mansion's previous owner. And they won't let a couple of women stop them.

Meg, however, is no ordinary mum. For she outwits and outruns them to reach the safety of the panic room with Sarah. Little realising, of course, that she has walked straight into the lion's lair: this room contains the hidden treasure the nasty trio is after.

It is cat-and-mouse tactics with the 'panic room' as cage, from here on. The ever-resourceful Meg churns out the most ingenious counter-attack strategies to foil the bad boys' fiendish plans. Such grace under fire, only a Supermom or an actress like Foster would be able to muster.

The action comes quick, the starts and jolts are plenty. As arresting as the film may be, it fails to grip you and the preordained outcome is undesired.

Panic Room Foster, who stepped into Nicole Kidman's shoes for the part after the latter was forced to opt out of the film due to a knee injury, proves her mettle. No one could portray grit with gun in hand as easily as she does with those steely eyes, reminiscent of her Clarice Starling from The Silence Of The Lambs.

As Burnham, the builder of the panic room, droopy-eyes Forest Whitaker excels as a man torn between greed and contrition. Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart and Dwight Yoakam have strong presences, too.

Howard Shore's background score is as much a hero here. It swells to a crescendo and then plummets to pindrop silence at the film's most captivating seconds.

Though Panic Room lacks the pizzazz of Seven and The Fight Club, it still makes for a good watch.


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