It’s interesting to hear that Phone Booth‘s screenwriter is Larry Cohen, who was very active in the late 1960’s and 70’s as a TV writer because this movie thinks that it’s about the excitement that can only be found in that earlier era in New York City. Within its boulevards is Colin Farrell‘s character Stuart Shepard, a publicist/professional who wears expensive Italian designer suits but wears them two sizes too big so he still looks like he’s from the other boroughs. His Point A is Times Square, the most ideal place to make business calls while dragging some nerdy-looking assistant named Adam (Keith Nobbs) who’s unknowingly working for free. His Point B, across a strip club on Eighth Avenue, is where he calls Pam (Katie Holmes), using a phone booth so his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell) won’t see a record of this courtship. But apparently they’re not the only two who know about this infidelity, as a sniping stranger (Kiefer Sutherland) threatens that if Stu hangs up or doesn’t obey the stranger’s orders, he will die. Then a confrontation happens where the stranger offers to shoot a man assaulting Stu, which the latter accepts, inadvertently making the prostitutes on the street as witnesses on the accusing him as the killer, getting the police’s attention (Forest Whitaker plays police negotiator Captain Ramey). And when both the women in his life come to the scene, the stranger threatens to kill them both.
There’s something lost in translation in its attempt to capture the metropolis’ vibrancy and the few New Yorkers who happen to be annoying, the little screens within a big one and turquoise cinematography making for an ugly aesthetic. The stranger’s purpose in kidnapping Stu is to make the latter confess his sins, having done this earlier to upper-class child molesters and real criminals. With this revelation Stu makes an appeal that he’s not as bad as the stranger’s other victims. I suppose the film is trying to make the point that like most people, Stu tries to justify their little, personal transgressions by telling themselves that their impact isn’t as large. And in confronting Stu’s situation, Farrell shows that he’s in his best when deconstructing the masculinity with which he’s built his stardom and makes way for his weeping, vulnerable self that he’ll bring in later projects like In Bruges. But by inflating his effect towards others it just makes me care less about his character.