Summary: Does art imitate life or life imitate art? Joel Schumacher’s wonderful thriller Phone Booth was originally set to be released in November 2002, but as a result of the terrifying shooting spree by the notorious ‘Washington Sniper’, 20th-Century Fox chose t
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Screenplay by Larry Cohen
Colin Farrell as Stu Shepard
Kiefer Sutherland as The Caller
Rated R for pervasive language and some violence
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Does art imitate life or life imitate art? Joel Schumacher’s wonderful thriller Phone Booth was originally set to be released in November 2002, but as a result of the terrifying shooting spree by the notorious ‘Washington Sniper’, 20th-Century Fox chose to delay its release.
Colin Farrell, who plays the film’s star, Stu Shepard, described Phone Booth as an exploration of a ‘complex character’s life-and-death struggle for redemption whilst undergoing a terrifying ordeal’. The film raises many serious issues which we can reflect positively on, and which provoke us to think harder about who we are, and who we might become.
Shepard is a man at the very top of his game – or, so he thinks. He’s in his late twenties, with beautiful hair, manicured nails, a Donna Karen suit and silk Armani tie. He’s got the gift of the gab, and struts confidently down Broadway as if he owns the place. He somehow seems to represent so much about our fast-paced and skim-the-surface culture. There’s no depth to his life; no substance to his dealings with other people.
He’s a highly-strung, fast-talking manipulator; a New York publicist who fakes his own success. Stu spends his days pacing the street, hyping himself to clients on his mobile phone and telling them what they want to hear, so that they do exactly what he wants them to. He doesn’t have much use for the truth, which he bends, twists and breaks at every opportunity.
Clip One: Who Do you Think you Are?
Stu and his young assistant Adam are walking down the streets of Manhattan, each speaking into a mobile phone. Stu is persuading ‘Donny’ that he’ll get him the front cover scoop he’s after. “No means yes to these people, Donny” he argues. At the same time, Stu is getting Adam to ring big-name magazines, to play them off against each other, telling each one that the other is going to run a picture of Donny on their cover.
Suddenly, Adam raises the alert – it’s Mario’s restaurant! They always walk quickly past Mario’s, where Stu has been dining out on false promises of publicity for the restaurant for months. But it’s too late. Mario appears on the pavement beside them. Before Mario can finish his complaint (“No more free drinks. No more free meals”), Stu is promising him the biggest celebrity party of the month, to be held at his restaurant with TV coverage and stars… And Mario is thanking him, as if he really believes him.
Stu gives Adam some further instructions about the magazines and sends him off to go and get a suit. And once alone, Stu checks his watch, and sidles up to a phone booth – the same one, in fact, that he approaches at the same time every day. Stu, who’s married to Kelly, always uses this booth in Manhattan to call a pretty, aspiring actress called Pamela who he’s stringing along because he’s attracted to her. In a cell-phone world, it’s one of the last remaining ‘booths’ of its kind in the city, ‘one of the last vestiges of privacy in Manhattan’, as the narrator says. Stu calls Pam from the booth so that his wife, Kelly, doesn’t find her number on his mobile-phone bill. Conveniently, Pam doesn’t know that Stu is married.
As he starts to dial Pam’s number, he fiddles with his wedding ring, and then takes it off. But before he can make the call, a pizza deliveryman appears at the booth, and knocks on the door. The pizza’s for the man occupying the phone booth, he says. But Stu – who is confused by this surprise gesture - is rude, callous, insulting, and instructs him. “Please return to sender” with a final cutting remark about the man’s weight.
He dials Pam, and proceeds to string her along with empty promises of acting parts and press conferences. But when she refuses to come down and meet him at a hotel for the afternoon, his manner changes, and he ends the call. As he picks up the wedding ring, the phone rings. Curious, Stu answers it immediately.
“Isn’t it funny? You hear a phone ringing and it could be anybody. But a ringing phone has to be answered, doesn’t it?”
It’s his judgment call. As the film’s tagline would have it, his life ‘is on the line’.
On the other end is a man’s voice; terrifyingly, it’s a mad sniper who has decided to become Stu’s judge and jury. The man announces to Stu that his time is up, and that, if he values his life, he had better not hang up.