Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Panic Room" (2002) and Proverbs

In what is generally considered one of his lesser efforts, Fincher tells the straightforward story of a woman and her daughter who are trapped in their house while it is being robbed. The story may be straight forward, but the way he tells it is not. It is something like what Hitchcock would have done in his day. The story is told visually and with a lot of flair. Unfortunately, that flair is sometimes distracting, and even worse for film, confusing. Great filmmakers—and David Fincher tends to be one—tell their stories with flourish but they do not let the bells and whistles take away from the story. Here it does.

If the story is seen from the perspective of Jody Foster (which is the way this film presents it) it is more of an extended study of tension than a story. However, the side-story being told here is that of Forrest Whitaker’s character. As Burnham, the security expert who wants to make his child’s life better, he plays someone who gives into the temptation to commit the sort of crime where no one is hurt. An empty house full of money that no one knows about that belonged to a man who has died. Why wouldn’t you take it? It is sort of like the old dilemma of finding a lot of money on the street. Should you keep it, or try to find the rightful owner? Is “loser’s keepers” a good ethical stance?

For Burnham, the easy, harmless crime spirals out of control. He regrets his decision from the moment he discovers that the house is not empty, but he allows himself to be convinced to do wrong until he is in too far to back out. Or rather, he could back out at great personal cost, he just gets to a point where is trying to avoid the inevitable harm he has incurred.

As that end finally does come and Burnham is left holding his empty hands high and his treasure flies away from him on the wind, they should have had the words of Solomon inscribed on the screen:

“…these men lie in wait for their own blood;
They set an ambush for their own lives.”

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