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Dan Heller's Movie Review of "Panic Room"


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Jodie Foster
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Panic Room, the latest film from David Fincher, is billed as a thriller, and while the script is intelligent and there are certainly suspenseful scenes, the movie ultimately fails to achieve the very essence of what makes a thriller thrilling.

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Jodie Foster/Kristen Stewart
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Jodie Foster plays Meg Altman, a recently-divorced woman who purchased a new home that happens to come equipped with a fortified "defense space"— or, "panic room"—that is designed as a safe place to hide in the event someone breaks in. Sure enough, on the first night, Meg and her diabetic daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) find themselves holed up inside, while three villains (one of whom is Forest Whitaker) break in the house to steal a stash of loot left behind by the recently deceased previous owner. At this point, it becomes a battle of wits between villain and victim, each needing what the other has: the villains want into the room, and Meg and her daughter want out. The negotiations come to a stalemate rather quickly, and the rest of the film deteriorates into a series of break-in attempts and failed escapes.

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Jared Leto
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The problem with "Panic Room" is that it tries too hard to build suspense for its own sake, while failing to develop characters and their motivations. The true essence of a thriller is not just the threat of what may happen to a victim, but the relationship between victim and villain that raises the stakes. What's more, villains must have a believable motive for their actions, so we feel empathy for their desperate actions. When the stakes are high, we are satisfied; when people rob or kill arbitrarily, well, then it's just a sophomoric horror flick.

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Jodie Foster/Kristen Stewart
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In the beginning, we see the Meg is incredibly claustrophobic, but by the time she's locked in the panic room, that element is dropped. The reason she left her ex-husband is introduced and developed to a point, but none of it is germane to the film whatsoever. Forest Whitaker's motivations for robbing the house are implied strongly in the beginning, but the "need" is never followed through to allow us to feel justification for his taking such risks. Other characters suffer the same problem, leaving us with too many promises and no follow-through. Thus, the interplay between all the characters are equally undeveloped. And finally, while Whitaker's character has a "change of heart" to do something "good", the film doesn't follow through with any sort of acknowledgement by Meg to bring closure to their unfortunate and tragic encounter.

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Jared Leto/Forest Whitaker
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All that said, he movie isn't entirely bad - the script is intelligent, especially in the beginning, and the characters' profiles are developed slowly, smartly, and with a sense of discovery. As the plot thickens, you do feel the stakes go up, and the sense of suspense is delivered. But, when the movie's focus moves from character development and conflict, to just blunt and direct confrontation, promises are dropped and subplots left unattended, leaving the film empty.

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