Panic Room (2002)
David Fincher's follow-up to Fight Club takes him back to more standard thriller territory in this Home Alone for grown-ups, entitled Panic Room. The film's title tells half the plot: a newly divorced woman and her teenage daughter buy a huge New York apartment which contains a panic room - a safe compartment in which the owner can barricade oneself in case of a break-in. Not surprisingly, they need the room on their first night in their new quarters, as a diverse trio of criminals break and enter in search of alleged fortunes.
The premise is fine, and the performances are remarkably consistent from all players (Whitaker in particular). Fincher toys with the latest technology in camera movement and couples this with a handful of old-fashioned race-against-the-clock scenes, but he still struggles to generate more than a fair share of suspense. Why? Well, our two female protagonists are protected by the film's title, and the villains are too unprofessional and plot bound to be able to impose a lasting eerie atmosphere. There are exceptions, most involving the rawness (Yoakam) or the compassion (Whitaker) of the performances. Fincher does well to explore the desperation and confusion that goes on in the head of criminals - even with such different backgrounds as these three have.
Towards the end, Panic Room picks up, and the ending is satisfactory, albeit predictable. The only trouble is, we end up caring more about Whitaker's character than about the somewhat contrived Foster character, and there is more heart in the moments between the talented Kristen Stewart and the massive character actor, than between mother and daughter.