Panic Room (2002)

Fincher devotees, panic!

Recently divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her 11-year-old daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) have just purchased a four-story brownstone on the upper west side of New York City. The house's previous owner, a reclusive millionaire, installed an isolated room used to protect the house's occupants from intruders. The panic room is protected by concrete and steel on all sides, a thick steel door, and an extensive security system with multiple surveillance cameras and a separate phone line. On the night the two move into the home, it is broken into by Junior (Jared Leto), the grandson of the previous owner; Burnham (Forrest Whitaker), an employee of the residence's security company; and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), ski mask-wearing gunman recruited by Junior. The three are after $3 million in bearer bonds, which are locked inside a floor safe in the panic room.

The opening scene isn't particularly engaging, as it focuses upon setting up the house and it's history rather than giving us a look into these characters. In fact, this is a weakness of the film, as it doesn't allow us to get to know Meg and Sarah Altman better than the basic outline of what we've been told, we don't get to see how the both of them are coping through this divorce.

I loved Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs, I felt she gave an amazing performance that was worthy of her Academy Award. I have seen very little films starring Foster, so I was expecting great things from her here, which is why it saddens me a bit to say she only managed to give a performance which was merely alright, nothing spectacular.

Kristen Stewart plays Sarah Altman, the main character's daughter, who is typically annoying often throughout the film's running time. The main problem I had with Stewart's character is that she didn't actually register as a character to me, just as a snarky plot device that's only purpose in the film appears to be creating unnecessary drama.

Kristen Stewart: Playing moody and annoying before
she banged didn't bang vampires

I found that the actors playing the three robbers gave much better performances than either of the female leads did. Burnham, played by Forest Whitaker, is the compassionate one who's only robbing the house because he's desperate for the money and believed the house would be empty, meaning nobody would've gotten hurt during the robbery. Junior, played by 30 Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto, planned out the robbery and considers himself the leader, but is prone to error and very unprofessional. Raoul, played by Dwight Yoakam, is an enigma, the dangerous one of the robbers who's willing to kill, and of the robbers, he's the only one who actually feels like a proper threat to the family, because Junior's too incompetent to actually do something bad to them, and you know where Burnham's story will go, and it's not to anywhere dangerous for the Altmans.

Fincher does great camera work, utilizing it very well, and the film managed to be rather tense at times, particularly during one audio-less scene. However, I felt that the score which was used did not fit in with the film, especially the score used over the opening credits, and I found the last act to be rather predictable and not as engaging as a film's last act should be. Also, I found it quite convenient how the intruders broke into the house on the exact same night the Altman's move in, but that's just me nitpicking.

Panic Room is a disappointing film from David Fincher. The two leads aren't characterized well, the performances from the actress' playing them is nothing special, the score felt out of place with this film and the last act was predictable and very unengaging. However, the performances from the three robbers were much better and the film actually managed to feel tense in a few places. But ultimately, this film just feels like a low point for Fincher (haven't seen Alien 3, so i'm currently not counting that)