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Panic Room: Superbit

To think that Nicole Kidman was originally cast in David Fincher's low-light thriller Panic Room (2002). Not that there's anything wrong with Nic — she's managed to emerge from the shadow of ex-husband Tom Cruise as one of Hollywood's most in-demand actresses, and she's carried thrillers from Dead Calm (1989) to The Others (2002). But Kidman's appeal lies in her beauty and vulnerability, and her last-minute replacement in Panic Room with the gutty, driven, not-as-pretty Jodie Foster doubtless transformed the film. As director Fincher noted, she's "nobody's trophy wife." Foster stars as Meg Altman, a recently divorced Manhattanite whose wealthy husband (Patrick Bauchau) is now keeping house with a younger woman. As part of the settlement, Meg and daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) are lucky enough to find a brownstone near Central Park with four floors, an eleveator, and lots of character. It also comes equipped with a "panic room" installed by the previous owner — a hidden alcove encased in concrete with a steel door and a secure phone line, meant to conceal residents in case of home invasion. However, the grandson of the previous resident, "Junior" (Jared Leto), is convinced the family inheritance is stashed in a safe in the panic room, and he recruits two burglars to loot it. The only problem is that the Altmans moved in early, and before long they're locked away with the money (although no phone). Furthermore, sad-sack burglar Burnham (Forest Whitaker) is unwilling to resort to violence, while gun-toting, ski-masked thug Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) has a very itchy trigger-finger. While it may pale in comparison to David Fincher's previous films (notably Se7en and Fight Club), Panic Room is a strong, suspenseful thriller that's bound to please most folks looking for an attention-grabbing, high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse. Fincher's direction is sharp, and his telltale stylistics are on display (colorless art direction, dim light, probing cameras, impossible close-ups). Foster is well-used as the plucky heroine who must keep the intruders at bay while dealing with her diabetic daughter's deterioriating condition — it's a turn that recalls her defining intensity in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), where she relies more on nerve and necessity than any actual confidence in her survival instincts. As daughter Sarah, Kristen Stewart comes up with a standout performance from a child actor, concealing her very real vulnerability and emotional trauma behind a glum demeanor and drab boy's haircut. Outside the panic room, the trio of interlopers likewise are intriguing to watch, if a bit thinly sketched. As the rich kid, Leto is a shouting, spoiled brat given over to constant (and funny) temper tantrums; Whitaker anchors much of the story with his humanity and hard-luck appeal; and Dwight Yoakam is believably unsound, preferring to speak in quiet tones unless provoked, after which he beomes not just a bad guy but a pure dose of psychotic malevolence. The singer/actor gets his teeth into the role and utterly dominates the third act, leading to a stylish finale that has more to do with classic horror movies than Hitchcockian suspense. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Panic Room: Superbit features a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround. The image remains crisp throughout, and due to the dim art direction it looks best with the lights off. Teaser trailer, filmographies. Folding digipak in paperboard slipcase.

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