Panic Room (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I suppose I should let you know at the outset that you'll probably like this movie if it represents your kind of entertainment. It has a great star (Jodie Foster), a great director (David Fincher), was loved by the critics (77% positive at RT), and was a solid box office performer ($95 million domestic gross). I knew all those things in advance, and I really like Fincher's work. SE7EN, Fight Club, and The Game are all among my favorites. I thought this would join them.

It didn't.

The film never managed to hook me in. I watched the opening scene with fascination, as Jodie Foster and her screen daughter picked out a lavish New York City home. But the film started to irritate me almost immediately. The house was a four story affair, and there was a secure "panic room" on the third floor, meant to act as an impenetrable refuge for the family in case the house was breached by invaders. That room had three inch steel walls further reinforced by concrete, and was loaded with electronic equipment. Since the room was said to be completely secure, and was on a middle floor, it must have had a similarly reinforced floor and ceiling as well. I estimated the size of the box, and did a quick mental calculation.

A steel sheet 3'x4'x1" is exactly one cubic foot of steel. According to Epping Systems, that sheet would weigh 560 pounds. Therefore, a steel wall 8 feet high and 12 feel long and three inches thick would weigh approximately 7 tons. We have four such walls to begin with, so even excluding the weight of the ceiling and floor plate and the weight of the concrete reinforcing the steel plate, the walls of this room weigh nearly 30 tons. If the floor and ceiling are also steel plates of the same construction, at 12x12 each, those plates would weigh another 20 tons. Add in the zillion TV's and the concrete reinforcement, and I suppose you can easily figure on a 50 ton object sitting on the third floor of an old four story building.

I'm no engineer, so I don't know how to calculate whether an old building can support that, but I do know that my last landlord wouldn't let me have a king size waterbed on any apartment above the ground level, and that weighed less than a ton when full, so that gives me a hint that we're dealing in fantasyland here. My engineer friend from Shell told me that there is no problem to construct such a room, because big banks do similar things all the time. He further estimated that the weight alone must be manageable, because it isn't unusual for a house that size in New York to host a party for three or four hundred people on an upper floor, which would involve almost as much weight as the room in question. (Not literally true. On the average 400 people weigh only 20 tons, and would spread that weight out over a much larger area. To make his simile more accurate, imagine 1000 people all somehow crowded into a 12x12 room.) My friend did go on to point out that even in custom-constructed buildings they are most likely to place such vaults on the lowest level available, thus using good old mother earth to support the enormous weight.

OK, I realize I'm getting too hung up on the fact that the entire premise was shaky. After all, there were some moments in The Game that made no sense once the secret was revealed, but it was still fun to guess about it, right?  Let's just accept the premise and movie on.


A bunch of bad guys break into the house on Jodie's first night in residence, looking for the treasures reputedly hidden there by the former occupant. Jodie and her daughter can't escape, so they lock themselves in the fortified "panic room". This creates a chess game between the brainy criminal mastermind (Forrest Whitaker) and the brainy protagonist (Foster), reminiscent of the battle of wits between Spacey and Freeman in Fincher's classic SE7EN. Good guys have to stay in the room, bad guys have to smoke 'em out.

I sat back and waited for the mental combat, confident that Fincher would not fall back on any of the clichés moviemakers usually employ in these situations. No, I thought, they won't make his accomplices gun-waving psychos who screw up his calculations. No, I thought, they won't make Foster or the daughter a diabetic or something like that, somebody who will die if she stays in the room without medicine. Sadly, I was wrong. They took the promising cat-and-mouse game and weighted it down with dependent kids and mentally incompetent sidekicks.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen, anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • superbit

  • no meaningful features

Whitaker versus Foster - that could have been a film for the ages - but these extras gave it too much familiar baggage to allow it the originality it required to become a classic.

Oh, well, I guess not every film is destined to be a classic. If you like a nail-biter, I think you'll find that Fincher is a master. He does an excellent job of maintaining the tension, and maybe sometimes it's good just to ride his roller coaster and shut your mind off. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, BBC 4/5, Apollo 72/100, 4/5

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: made for a $48 million dollars, it grossed $95 million in the USA (3100 screens), and also did well elsewhere.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Good nail-biter. Top-of-the line use of the camera and CGI to maintain tension. The plot, unfortunately, was less impressive. The film was both a critical and box office success, so you don't want to miss it if you like this type of movie.

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