Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Recasting 2003: "Panic Room"

One of the things I enjoy about this recasting project is that I get to imagine how Meryl would've fared in projects with new directors. It's not something I really thought about for movies prior to following Meryl's career as closely as I have. I just knew whether I like a certain movie or not. Yes, some had distinctive styles. But I didn't consider much the actual making of the films, and how certain directors likely have their own approaches that inevitably show up on screen. As it turns out, almost without me realizing it, I'm a big fan of David Fincher movies. Seven, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (I don't think I disliked Fight Club, but honestly the only thing I can remember about it is Brad Pitt's body). 

Thinking about the possibility of Meryl being directed by Fincher, Panic Room seemed like it could've been a reasonable opportunity. Based on my two previous choices, I had to again bump this selection back a year, as the film was originally released in 2002. Nicole Kidman had been cast in the lead role of Meg Altman, with Hayden Panetierre set to play her daughter, Sarah. Panetierre dropped out shortly before filming began, and was replaced with Kristen Stewart. They were already a couple weeks into production when Kidman, too, had to drop out due to an unhealed injury she suffered on the set of Moulin Rouge. Not wanting to scrap production, the role of Meg was quickly recast with Jodie Foster. 

It's easy to imagine that Meryl would not be David Fincher's first choice (or second, obviously) for this role. Nor do I suspect this role is something Meryl would naturally be saying yes to. But what if in their search, Foster had been unavailable or uninterested. Same with Angelina Jolie or Sandra Bullock or Robin Wright, who were all apparently considered as replacements. Had Meryl done Requiem for a Dream a few years prior with Jared Leto, maybe he would've tossed that idea to Fincher as a sort of "out of the box" consideration. I know that's a stretch, but I enjoy being able to find even a shred of plausibility for my choices in any given year. 

The story pretty much takes place in one day. Meg Altman, coming off a divorce from her rich husband, has purchased a several-story brownstone in Manhattan. The home was built with a hidden "panic room," a fortified space for protection in the event of intruders. Well, you guessed it. People try to intrude on the home. Jared Leto portrays Junior, the grandson of the previous owner, who knows there are bearer bonds worth millions inside the panic room. Dumb-dumb Junior doesn't expect Meg and Sarah to have already moved in the night he plans the heist. Forrest Whitaker is Junior's accomplice, with experience in installing panic rooms. Country singer Dwight Yokum (in a surprisingly very convincing and super creepy performance) rounds out the intruder team as Raoul, an ex-con-like bad guy willing to be the one who hurts people. 

Things get pretty dicey quickly. Sarah has diabetes, and without her medication is in danger of not making it until they can be rescued. Meg manages to alert her ex-husband, who calls the police. Some struggles ensue, but ultimately, Meg and Sarah survive and the bad guys are all either killed or taken into custody. 

This wouldn't be the first thriller I insert Meryl into. Copycat several years prior would have similar suspense qualities to it. This film, however, has the added appeal of David Fincher's extremely meticulous approach and style. Again, the role I've chosen was originally cast with someone several years younger than Meryl would've been at the time. But I argue it almost makes more sense to have someone closer to 50 than 40 in this. Consider the fact that the guy who plays Meg's ex, Stephen, is portrayed by an actor who is eleven years older than Meryl. It seems a natural element in the story that there's some animosity from Meg over Stephen having possibly left her for a younger woman. Kristen Stewart would've been around twelve had they filmed in early 2002. Meryl's youngest daughter Louisa is a year younger than Stewart. No issues there. 

One of the hardest things I imagine an actor having to do is when they'd be required to "act" while in character. Meaning, trying to fool someone in the story, lie, or pretend for a while that what's happening is actually not. Take for example the scene where the cops come and Foster has to pretend that everything's OK. 

You can't act too well, otherwise it'll seem like the character of Meg is a good actress. We shouldn't necessarily expect that from her. Play it too poorly, and it wouldn't be believable for the police officers. It's a tough thing to balance, and I thing Foster does a good job here. I'd of course love to see how Meryl would negotiate that scene. 

Panic Room was a box office success and did fairly well with critics as well (76% on Rotten Tomatoes and 65 score on Metacritic). Despite its favorable reception, it wasn't a typical "Oscary" film, like several of Fincher's other movies turned out to be. Foster did earn a Saturn Award nomination for Best Actress. Regardless of awards recognition, I think it would've been a fun and different role to see Meryl tackle. 


  1. Well Jeff, I must say very surprised by this choice, I wasn't expecting this at all. From memory, this movie is fairly entertaining it would be very exciting to see Meryl in this sort of uncharacteristic role at this stage in her career!

    I may be misremembering but there is some action in it as well? Not necessarily a movie you would associate someone with Meryl's filmography to be in, but an inspired choice :)

    For 2004 my choice has to be "Vera Drake". This is quite a small movie that didn't have a huge audience but was highly acclaimed. Imelda Staunton was sublime and, in my opinion, really deserve the Oscar that year. You don't often see movies about this subject matter but I thought it was handled very sensitively, with a terrific British supporting cast.

    1. It's sort of fun to have some unexpected/out of left field choices though, right?!

      I've gone back and forth a bit on my 2004 choice, but feel pretty good about what I've settled on.

    2. Just to mention, had the movie happened in the 90s, Meryl would have killed it (no pun intended!) as Aileen Wuornos in "Monster". I think it might be one of the Best Actress winning performances of the last 30 years.

  2. Off topic... Totally unfair snub for Meryl Streep in the Golden Globes this year. They nominated James Corden instead... Incredible!