Heroes of the Zeroes: Panic Room
Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.
David Fincher’s “Panic Room” valued logic over brutality, and, excepting one explosion, it touted real-world practicality of being quiet over the cinematic kicks of a loud thriller.
Instead, Fincher’s 2002 home-invasion hit exposed unexpectedly psychological nerves while screenwriter David Koepp offered a deadly reversal of territorial advantage: The thieves know the home’s layout better than its tenants. (With digital-effects help, Fincher burrowed into the apartment’s nooks and crannies while Koepp turned in-home amenities into critical plot points.)
Reeling from a messy divorce, Meg (Jodie Foster) impulsively buys an apartment with diabetic daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart, in pre-“Twilight” androgyny). When three burglars (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and an unpredictably unstable Dwight Yoakam) invade on Meg and Sarah’s first night there, they hide in a “panic room” fortified to repel intruders. But the thieves’ plan goes much further.
“Panic Room” cast Foster as the Zeroes’ least likely ass-kicking mama bear, and its success let her revisit that role to diminishing returns (“Flightplan, “The Brave One”). Overnight, Meg morphs from trophy wife to big-game hunter, confronting her physical discomfort with new-found independence and personal space.
Foreign as it feels to her, the new home is unequivocally hers, and to cede any control is to lose it completely. (It’s hard to envision Nicole Kidman, who dropped out after a “Moulin Rouge!” injury, striking such affecting grace notes of empowerment.)
Given Meg’s self-imposed distance and doubt, “Panic Room” played like “Wait Until Dark” with suspense from overcoming helplessness that’s emotional and social, not just physical.