Fincher’s Panic Room doesn’t live up to director’s potential

Giant, white letters float above the streets of New York, reflecting off high-rise office windows. As the camera pans across the words, they remain locked in place as if they are as firmly planted as the buildings themselves. This is how the opening credits of Panic Room play out on screen and the effect alone is worth the five bucks to get into the theater.

But there are two ways to look at this truly stunning addition to the movie. One is to simply say that the opening credits are possibly the coolest opening credits in modern film history (which they are), and the other is to say that, after the opening credits, Panic Room is all downhill (which it is).

But the last statement is simply too negative a way to describe a movie, which, by ordinary standards, is pretty good. It is a little difficult, however, to walk into a David Fincher (The Game, Fight Club, Seven) movie and judge it by ordinary standards.

The story centers on a divorced mother named Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her teenage daughter. At the opening of the movie, the pair is looking for a new house in upper Manhattan and come across a deal on the home of a recently deceased millionaire. The home is equipped with a panic room, an emergency shelter with steel walls, security cameras and a month’s worth of food and medical supplies. On their first night in the house, thieves break in, and after Meg and her daughter lock themselves up in the panic room, they find out that what the thieves are really after (are you ready for this?) “is in that room.”

Although there aren’t any stand out performances in Panic Room, there aren’t any bad ones either. The trio of thieves, played by Jared Leto, Forrest Whittaker and Dwight Yoakam grows more disjointed as the story progresses. Whitaker’s character, Burnham, is the unwilling crook, just trying to scrape up money to support his children, while Junior (Leto) is the eager youngster who seems to be morally immune. Yoakam’s character, Braulio, grabs the most attention as he spends the majority of the movie behind a mask, uttering mysteriously brutish orders.

The real star of the movie, however, is the camera. In classic Fincher style, shots move between walls and around corners to change perspective instead of simply cutting to a new angle. The technique is especially appropriate for this film because it adds some movement to an otherwise restricted setting.

The film’s visual feel begs to be compared to Fincher’s previous work, but despite its good points, the intensity in Panic Room falls below the standard Fincher fare. The pacing throughout the film feels a bit sluggish. While slower pacing worked for him in Seven, Panic Room suffers from a less interesting script, and can’t sustain the level of suspense audiences expect from the director.

But those opening credits, now that’s great filmmaking.


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