Tuesday, August 28, 2007


PHONE BOOTH (2002, USA, Joel Schumacher, Larry Cohen screenplay)
Confess your sins and beg for absolution.

Roger Ebert calls it a religious fable, a morality play. Indeed, director Joel Schumacher stakes a claim to transcendence right off the top as his camera does a cosmic zoom, ricocheting off stars and satellites before diving down into the phone system to the strains of that a capella classic, Operator – "Give me information, Long distance, give me heaven...." Soon we're pinned inside a New York City phone booth confessional with a show biz promoter as an unknown sniper pushes this fast-talking, self-obsessed man to acknowledge his secret sins.

Now, this guy's transgressions aren't such a big deal, in the Hollywood scheme of things. He hasn't killed anybody, he's just treated them badly: he hasn't actually committed adultery, he's only thought about it. But for screenwriter Larry Cohen – or at least, for the man who aims the rifle – that's enough.

On one level, this is nothing but a low rent, high octane B-movie thriller, as hard to look away from as a news-channel hostage incident. But on another, it's a pretty harrowing take on Jesus' radical insistence that sin is a thing of the heart: Cohen has read his New Testament, at least as far as Matthew 6, and if he acknowledges that the shooter is a psycho, he also knows that this psycho has a point.

For me, the strain of watching this film had as much to do with my own examination of conscience as it did with the threat of violence on screen. As a small-time hustler in a glass box in the middle of a crowded street is forced to reckon with his callous inhumanity and his all-too-human moral compromises, I couldn't help but think of Jesus' warning, "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs."

(Larry Cohen's other screenplays include GOD TOLD ME TO, GUILTY AS SIN and I, THE JURY – bit of a theme there? Joel Schumacher also directed FLATLINERS, and the HARDCORE-themed 8MM, with a screenplay by the author of SEVEN.)

Available at Videomatica

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