It's been awhile since I last reviewed David Fincher's Panic Room. I gave it four skulls because enjoyed the film, but I was still a bit disappointed. I mean, after films like Seven and Fight Club, how could anyone not be?? With Seven, in particular, Fincher singlehandedly reinvented the crime/thriller genre. Were it helmed by anyone else, I'd probably had had no reservations about giving Panic Room a better review, but from Fincher, I expected better. Now, a couple of years later, I've revisited the film on several occasions, and I've softened up some. I still don't think Panic Room is nearly as good as Fight Club or Seven, but it's actually a much better film than I'd previously given it credit for.
Freshly divorced Meg and daughter Sarah (Foster and Stewart) move into a new townhouse in the city to make a fresh start of things. The house is your average upper-class urban dwelling, but with a nice little feature called a panic room, which is essentially a small "safe room" were one can retreat in the event of an emergency. The panic room features steel walls, video monitors, and an isolated phone line so any self-respecting paranoid person can hide in high-tech style while hoodlums ransack their home. This, of course, happens on their first night in the house, when a group, led by a relative of the previous occupant (Leto), breaks into the home, unaware that anyone's moved in. The robbers are their to grab a multimillion dollar stash of bank bonds that are hidden in the titular room where Meg and Sarah have fled.
Panic Room is filled with tension and oozes style, with Fincher flexing much of the visual technique he perfected in Fight Club. Dazzling CGI assisted camera acrobatics, macro-zoom photography and color washed sets rule the roost here, making for a visually stunning piece of suspense filmmaking that is a marvel given the confines of the story's location.
My only complaint with Panic Room is the very rushed feeling I got from the film's setup, or more accurately, lack thereof. The movie opens with Meg and Sarah touring their new home with the real-estate agents, introduces the titular room, and then...BOOM...we are thrown into the home invasion! We never learn enough about Meg or Sarah to genuinely care about them, so their situation is of little consequence.
That being said, Panic Room IS a highly effective thriller with some stand-out performances from Whitaker (as the most humane of the trio of thieves), Leto, and newcomer Kristen Stewart. Foster isn't exactly at the top of her game here, but that could be because she was essentially a last minute replacement for Nicole Kidman, and didn't have the time to really bond to her character. The real star of the film is Fincher's direction, and the cinematography of Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji.
The new Special Edition DVD from Columbia/Tri-Star is loaded with special features, spread out over three discs. The first disc features a newly remastered widescreen anamorphic transfer of the film, featuring an all new 5.1 Dolby mix, as well as three separate commentary tracks featuring Fincher, Foster, Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, and writer David Koepp.
Discs Two and Three present literally hours of featurettes, behind-the-scenes footage, and careful dissection of the film from every conceivable angle. It's one of the most comprehensive looks at a film I've ever seen, and it's presented in three phases; pre-production, production, and post-production. This set explores virtually every detail from the initial discussions about making the film, all the way through to post-release reaction, and while there's a lot of stuff on here that may only appeal to the more technical types, most of it is fascinating.
Panic Room is a very solid thriller, but most of you already know that, and, quite probably, own it on DVD. However, even if you already have it, the extra material on here is well worth the purchase for any self-respecting Fincher fanatic.