Film Review – The Call
You’re forgiven if you’ve seen a trailer or plot synopsis for Brad Anderson’s The Call and chalked it up to silly, sub-par thriller fare. These types of films are all too tragically common in the post-Oscar, pre-summer cinematic landscape. You know the ones. Movies in which a life or death situation falls into the lap of our pretty protagonist, he/she is called to duty and uses every tool in the box to ensure the safety and eventual rescue of our kidnapped child/dog/goldfish. While formulaic, such a conceit can sometimes work (Taken), but more often fails (Taken 2). The Call falls into the latter category for the first hour of its running time before saying screw it and hopping the train to Crazy Town in its final half hour. But let’s back up a little…
Halle Berry stars as Jordan Turner, a cool-headed police dispatcher who we gather has been at it for years. She doesn’t miss a beat and knows just how to orchestrate her inflections when dealing with a panicked caller, no matter the level of emergency. That is, until she makes a single mistake that ends in a tragedy that just maybe could have been prevented. Her co-workers, recognizing it could have happened to any of them, are sympathetic, but to no avail. It rattles her to her core. She can no longer bring herself to work in “the hive” (worker bees, get it?) and is moved to another position. One in which her knowledge can still be utilized without the immediate risk that befell her previously.
SIX MONTHS LATER
The moment we first see Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland) carelessly gallivanting around the mall with a friend from the point of view of an unseen, heavy-breathing spectator, we know there’s going to be trouble. When her friend then leaves, that trouble springs to action in a hurry. Trailers and TV spots know how to get you in that movie seat, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by telling you she gets kidnapped. The culprit (Michael Eklund, Watchmen) catches her off-guard in the mall’s parking garage and throws her in the trunk. The scuffle leads to a broken phone but, unbeknownst to him, she has a second on her person. Cue Jordan Turner.
A good deal of The Call takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a trunk. Casey (Breslin) alerts the police of her situation, and it doesn’t take long before Jordan is back in the saddle to assist. Ingenious steps are then taken in order to make Casey visible to freeway passersby using everyday items you might have in your own trunk right now. The kidnapper’s motivations are purposely left obscured for the better part of the movie, helping to ratchet the already palpable tension. I’d wager he has less than ten lines for the entire first hour. Once his motivations become clear, though, dread overcomes you in unexpected ways.
I’ll admit my familiarity with Michael Eklund as an actor is limited. Where anyone could have turned in a flashy, run-of-the-mill Big Bad Wolfish performance preying on helpless girls, this monster slowly reveals himself to be much more. Between his stuttering, nervous tics and forever-darting eyes, it’s almost as if he’s attempting to garner sympathy despite the evil he continues to unspool. This extra layer given to a potentially one-note villain is surely the work of director Brad Anderson, who has the moody but entertaining Session 9 and excellent Christian Bale vehicle The Machinist also in his arsenal.
Despite a few jaw-dropping missteps in the film’s final moments, The Call is a concise and fun little thriller. Halle Berry plays concerned better than most other actors in the biz, so her performance here is easy to hang your hat on. And that Breslin sure can cry convincingly! I was surprised to see Michael Imperioli’s name in the opening credits, but am sad to report that his appearance, while fun, was ultimately thankless.
I’d suggest if you’re going to see The Call, do it in a packed theater. Just be sure to watch out for those wheels once they start coming off.
Final Grade: B-