Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Call

Directed by Brad Anderson.
2013. Rated R, 94 minutes.
Michael Eklund
David Otunga
Roma Maffia
Evie Thompson
Ross Gallo

I imagine being a 911 operator is stressful. Real matters of life and death probably comprise at least several calls a day. Whether someone survives until the next sunrise may depend on your ability to keep a frantic person calm in the face of danger and/or wrestle information from someone currently incapable of thinking clearly. It’s a life Jordan Turner knows all too well. She is good at her job, but as the old saying goes, you can’t win them all. A loss in this case is fielding a call from a scared young girl because an intruder is in her home. As cell phones are wont to do, the call is dropped during this crucial situation. Jordan immediately calls the girl back which turns out to be a very bad idea. When it rings on the girl’s end it clues in the bad guy to the whereabouts of his prey. He proceeds to murder the girl before the police can get there.

Fast-forward six months. Jordan is so distraught, she’s resigned from her post on the boards, takes lots of meds, and now trains newbies. She is giving a tour of the floor when a rookie operator takes a call from another frightened girl. This one is named Casey Welson (Breslin). With the rook proving useless, Jordan has to jump back into her old role in an effort to help the poor child. The firs issue is that she is calling from a disposable, and therefore more difficult to trace, cell phone. The second makes things even tougher. She is traveling, but completely unaware of where she is or where she is going because she has just woken up in the trunk of a moving car.

For a sizable chunk of the movie, we watch and listen as Jordan tries to help Casey find ways to make her presence known to others, figure out where she is, and/or escape. Meanwhile, Jordan’s bosses try to track that call and Officer Phillips (Chestnut), the cop who happens to be Jordan’s boyfriend, chases every lead they throw his way. And just to demonstrate his ruthlessness, our bad guy (Eklund) is forced to hurt and/or kill anyone who figures out too much. This portion of our film is intriguing. At times, it is edge-of-your-seat stuff as we really feel like whatever the girl does next could decide if she lives or dies. Some of the things Jordan has her do are simply brilliant. When these things are mildly successful, civilians get involved with mixed results.

Through it all, Halle Berry gives us her best concerned and horrified look. I’ve written a number of times that I don’t feel she is not nearly as good an actress as she is good looking. However, I will give credit where it is due and say she’s pretty strong here. She manages to make us feel how much she cares about this situation, not just for the girl’s sake, but also for her own. It helps that she has a really good performance to bounce off. The work of Abigail Breslin as the victim is outstanding “scream queen” material. Yes, she screams a lot. She also whimpers, snivels, and pleads her way into our hearts.

Unfortunately, when act three gets cranking everything falls apart. It’s no surprise that our bad guy has been twisted since birth, but just how much so might be overkill, pardon the pun. Still, this isn’t as bothersome as what happens with our other two principals. For starters, our 911 operator turns super-sleuth and is, in fact, a far better detective than anyone in the police department. I won’t tell you what happens after that for fear of spoiling the movie, but suffice it to say it’s overly contrived and completely inconsistent with the characters we’ve been watching until that point. The Call becomes yet another film with a great premise that seems to be delivering on its potential for quite a while until it crumbles under its own weight.

The shame of it all is that the first two acts work so well our anticipation is peaking just as it becomes plain that the conclusion is coming. The entire thing is a situation many of us are fearful of in real life, no matter how remote the chance of it actually happening. Seeing it play out here taps into this anxiety. It does double the damage for those of us with kids who might be out and about on their own. Therefore, we want to see how it ends. Sadly, when we do we can’t help notice it took all that goodness it had going and made a mess of itself.

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