?Phone Booth' shines like a lustrous gem - R.H. Joseph

To appreciate all that goes into a film one need only contemplate the variety of Academy Awards: best actors of every sort, script, cinematography, sound, costumes, editing, and scads more.

This makes "Phone Booth" all the more impressive for the film is little more than an 81-minute head shot. Granted, because it's Colin Farrell's head this may be sufficient for certain sexists. But those enamored of gripping dramas would be well-advised to attend because of his performance.

And while Farrell's impressive work demands accolades, to ignore the considerable achievement of the film's director, Joel Schumacher, would be irresponsible. There is simply no moment during the course of the film that permits you to divorce yourself from the action, to find respite from the tension.

Spielberg is capable of accomplishing this but reflect for a moment on the visual complexities of his films: the sets, the cinematography, the special effects. Schumacher does it with one man and a phone booth. That's something!

By the same token, if ever an actor had the responsibility of carrying a film, it's Farrell in this one. Aside from 10 minutes or so when his character, Stu Shepard, strolls down a street in Manhattan, Farrell spends the entire film in the phone booth.

As Tinseltown maintains a continuous parade of comely young things selected for their photogenic qualities, and allows them two or three films to determine whether they'll capture the public's fancy, it would be easy to dismiss Farrell as just another pretty face with a nice pair (eyebrows).

Granted, he was gleefully diabolical in the recent "Daredevil," and thereby demonstrated an ability to imbue a role with an imaginatively contrived personality. But as to his acting chops, his range and ability to solidly establish a fictitious character of dramatic substance, it had yet to be demonstrated to this critic.

Suffice it to say, he's made his mark.

With nothing more than the opening 10-minute stroll discussed above we know for certain Stu is a manipulator extrordinaire. Through Farrell's craft we are able to feel the essence of such an individual, not someone portraying a type. Stu's a publicist and he's got his little corner of the world jumping through hoops for him.

To his credit, the director employs the same 10-minute sequence to make clear though Stu's integrity comes into question later on, he does make a difference for those who employ him and does have something to offer to those employed by him. That's good work.

Then Stu gets in the phone booth. Things don't go well.

To initiate what comprises the majority of the story the director demonstrates a nice balance between believable mayhem and ludicrous caricatures.

Furthermore, the casting director wisely chooses young but slightly overly fleshy women to portray the low-rent strumpets who first give Stu grief.

The beauty of this selection is not in their fleshiness, but in their abdominal flaccidity. These women have never seen the inside of a gym, and this contributes to their authenticity.

Also seemingly authentic is their protector. Rather than offering the archetypal screaming pimp, John Enos creates a character accustomed to dominating through intimidating physicality alone. In many ways this film succeeds due to the collective restraint of the director and cast.

Things don't go well for Leon (Enos) either.

Ere long the phone booth is surrounded by enough armed men to take Baghdad, all of whom think poorly of Stu and seek his surrender – post haste. Stu, by this time suffering some serious stress-related issues not of his own making, refuses to leave the booth.

Enter Forest Whitaker as police Capt. Ramey. Another excellent casting decision. Whitaker's palpable physical reserve allows us to believe Ramey would rather smooth his way out of this tense situation than shoot his way out.

But, and this is the important part, there's another player, an X factor, whose sole function is to prolong the chaos – and worse! Woe, therefore, is Stu, Ramey, Stu's wife, Pamela (the object of Stu's illicit yearnings), and the pizza delivery guy – don't ask.

Will Stu extricate himself from the phone booth? Will he suffer a Scrooge-like metamorphosis? Will he and his wife live happily ever after?

Believe it or not, such is the quality of this film that not only will you be asking yourselves these questions, you'll care about the answers.

Not a bad ride for a couple of bucks.

Celluloid memories: In an industry that eats up pretty things with the voraciousness of a sumo wrestler at an all-you-can eat buffet, Forest Whitaker has been working in films for more than 20 years. None of the following are for children. He plays a wonderful character in "A Rage in Harlem" (1991) directed by Bill Duke. It goes from the scary to the hilariously funny and features an all-star cast: Gregory Hines, Robin Givens, Danny Glover, Zakes Mokae, and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. A year later Whitaker took an entirely different direction and provided a superlative performance in "The Crying Game" (1992), though the film attracted attention for a different reason. The excellent film is directed by Neil Jordan and also offers laudable performances by Stephen Rea and Jaye Davidson. Finally, when it comes to adventurous films, "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" (1999) will fascinate serious film fans. Directed by the iconoclastic Jim Jarmusch, it is at once funny, bizarre, violent, and touching. Jarmusch also wrote it and if you attend closely, the urbane among you will find the dialogue hilarious.