Larry Cohen Collection: “Phone Booth”

Phone Booth

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Next up in the Larry Cohen Collection is the the 2002 thriller hit “Phone Booth,” starring Colin Farrell and Kiefer Sutherland.

the screenplay for “Phone Booth” was written by Larry Cohen, around the same time that he wrote “Cellular,” which was designed to be a similar yet opposite story. It removes the element of immobility that exists in “Phone Booth,” but retains the connection to the phone.

“Phone Booth” was directed by Joel Schumacher, who has helmed such films as “Falling Down,” “Batman & Robin,” “Batman Forever,” “The Lost Boys,” “8MM,” and “The Number 23” over his career as a director.

The cinematographer on “Phone Booth” was Matthew Libatique, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on “Black Swan.” He also provided photography for movies like “Iron Man,” “The Fountain,” and “Requiem for a Dream.”

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The effects on “Phone Booth” were provided by a team that included James Fredburg (“Big Trouble In Little China,” “The Abyss,” “American Horror Story”), Trenton Driver (“World Trade Center”), and Chad Baalbergen (“Smokin’ Aces,” “Fallen”). The visual effects were specifically designed by Nathan McGuinness, who has worked on films like “Battleship,” “The Island,” “Kangaroo Jack,” “Man On Fire,” “Minority Report,” and “Catch Me If You Can.”

The music for “Phone Booth” was provided by Harry Gregson-Williams, who also provided scores for “Gone Baby Gone,” “Shrek,” and “Man On Fire,” among other movies.

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The producers on “Phone Booth” included Ted Kurdyla (“Fallen”), Gil Netter (“The Blind Side,” “Dude, Where’s My Car?”), and, oddly enough, comedy guru David Zucker (“The Naked Gun,” “Top Secret,” “Airplane”).

“Phone Booth” was edited by a man named Mark Stevens, who also cut movies other movies for Schumacher such as “The Number 23,” “Batman Forever,” and “Batman & Robin.”

The cast for “Phone Booth” is headlined by Colin Farrell (“In Bruges,” “Winter’s Tale,” “Seven Psychopaths,” “Daredevil”), and also includes Kiefer Sutherland (“The Lost Boys,” “Stand By Me,” “24”), Forrest Whitaker (“Battlefield Earth,” “The Butler,” “The Last King of Scotland”), Katie Holmes (“Batman Begins,” “The Singing Detective”), and Radha Mitchell (“Man On Fire,” “Pitch Black,” “Silent Hill”).

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The plot of “Phone Booth” follows a top-tier publicist who is held hostage in a phone booth by a crusading sniper. Over the course of the film, the sniper attempts to force the publicist to publicly confess and atone for his bad behaviors and deceptions of those around him.

The phone booth in “Phone Booth” was actually functional, and someone read the caller’s lines over the phone to Colin Farrell during filming. Sutherland’s audio was recorded later, and then edited in.

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The plot of the film takes place in real time, adding to it’s realistic tone and tension. Even more interesting is that the movie was filmed in chronological order, something that isn’t often done.

Reportedly, Colin Farrell’s confession finale was shot in just one take, which is particularly impressive given the sequence’s length and gravity.

Larry Cohen has cited the sniper sequence from his early film “God Told Me To” as one of the inspirations for him to write the sniper-centric screenplay for “Phone Booth.”

Before Colin Farrell landed the lead role, actors such as Mel Gibson, Will Smith, and Jim Carrey were all considered for part, but were either not available or turned it down.

The original screenplay for “Phone Booth” received a 2008 stage adaptation in Japan, playing in both Tokyo and Osaka to favorable reviews.

The original story for “Phone Booth” apparently ended with the caller being killed off in the final raid, but it was changed during the production to allow the character to survive.

Before Kiefer Sutherland was brought on, Ron Eldard was initially cast as the voice, but ultimately had to drop out of the production.

The theatrical release of “Phone Booth” was pushed back by the studio due to the Beltway sniper spree killings in October of 2002, and would up getting its release a couple of months later.

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“Phone Booth” grossed just under $98 million in it’s worldwide theatrical run on a budget of $13 million, making it a significant financial hit.

“Phone Booth” also received a generally positive reception from critics and audiences, and currently holds an IMDb rating of 7.1, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 71% (critics) and 64% (audience).

Colin Farrell really made a name for himself as an actor in “Phone Booth,” and is huge reason why the movie is as acclaimed as it is. Sutherland’s voice has also become somewhat iconic due to his performance here, and is now a regular voice actor in commercials and video games.

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Outside of the performances, the concept behind “Phone Booth” and the tension built in the screenplay both deserve a lot of props. The idea of being trapped in a phone booth by a sniper taps into a lot of simultaneous fears: the fear of being watched, claustrophobia, the anxieties of being publicly exposed, and more. The setting alone creates an immense amount of tension, and the way the film is written manages to add on to it.

My only particular complaint with “Phone Booth” is that the color filtering is pretty extreme, to the point of being a little distracting. I think that was a bit of a fad to do at the time, and a lot of cop procedurals and action films were really bad about it (and still are). The film is so thoroughly bathed in blue that you would swear that the story takes place in an alternate dimension where Earth has a blue sun.

Overall, “Phone Booth” is a fantastic thriller movie, and probably one of the better ones of the new millennium. The performances are solid, the writing is clever, and the premise is both simple and enthralling. If you enjoy a good thriller, “Phone Booth” is undoubtedly worth checking out.

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