David Fincher’s latest thriller uses cutting edge camerawork for sharp suspense
I have to start with this: For my money, David Fincher’s 1999 Fight Club is the best film of the last decade. Where many films passed off pat audience-pleasing as attacks on consumerism (Falling Down) or gloried in the worst excesses of violence while claiming “we had to show gore in order to satirize our corrupt culture” (Natural Born Killers), or worst of all covered themselves in mock grit (Leaving Las Vegas, 8 MM) as a way of spackling over their flaws, Club‘s lunatic ethic succeeded where all others failed.
It bombed because it suffered from Fincher’s growing strength as an artist: He’s not afraid to be hard on us.
So I had high hopes for his latest, Panic Room. It disappointed only in that it’s merely a very good thriller.
Here Fincher brings us newly divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter (minted with believable toughness by Kristen Stewart) the night they move into their new Manhattan brownstone. It sports said panic room (a vault-like construction meant to hold the family during home invasions) compliments of its previous millionaire occupant. Unfortunately, their first night home three burglars break in for millions in cash hidden by said millionaire.
With only one building to work with, Room reads like a Die Hard revisit. Thankfully Fincher uses his liquid camera acrobatics that allow us to flip, drift, hover and even see through every wall, door, and keyhole to the essentials. It makes for a sharp edge of dread and claustrophobia without descending into repetition and boredom.
Foster’s turn as Meg brings a weight and fragility anchoring the considerable thrills around her, while Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam shine as the trio of burglars who go from money crazed to something much worse. Their attempts to scheme around Foster are by turns funny, tragic and chilling. The humor and careful character observations by screenwriter David Koepp keep the film from devolving into a series of manipulations for cheap suspense. This is the real deal.
If only all disappointments could be this good.