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the case in David Fincher's slick new thriller, a perfectly constructed recipe
for buttock-clenching, palm-sweating tension.
Meg Altman (Foster) is spending her first night in a spacious New York house with
her young daughter Sarah (Stewart), unaware that three ruthless criminals are
intent on robbing the previous occupier's secret safe.
With seconds to
spare, the two women - one claustrophobic, the other diabetic - enclose themselves
in the panic room, setting in motion a brutal game of cat and mouse and a dangerous
race against time.
A journeyman director
might feel limited by a film where all the action takes place in a single house,
but Fincher takes up the challenge with dazzling visual flair.
His camera prowls
up stairs, glides through walls, and, in one amazing computer-assisted tracking
shot, follows the villains from inside the building as they inspect the exterior
for weak points.
Foster - who took
over the role after Nicole Kidman pulled out, despite being four months pregnant
- is endlessly resourceful as the imprisoned heroine, while Forest Whitaker is
convincingly conflicted as the most sympathetic of the bad guys.
Only the film's
eagerness to cut to the chase - there's little time to get to know the characters
before they are plunged into peril - mars an otherwise hugely accomplished slice
of Hitchcockian suspense.
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"Panic Room" opens in UK cinemas on Friday 3rd May 2002.
Reviewed by Laura
Bushell, BBC Films