Call, The (2013)
Directed by Brad Anderson
If one felt that the television trailer for the TriStar film The Call possibly communicates the majority of the film’s narrative plot points, then one would be correct. It’s a perplexing marketing gaffe, truly, in that it succeeds in sabotaging a majority of the tension the production intends. Fortunately for The Call, director Brad Anderson’s multi talents, coupled with Avi Youabian’s adept editing and the film’s solid cast, manage to generate enough tension that the proceedings, at least during the film’s first two acts, should prove harrowing for general audiences.
From the opening vertiginous tracking aerial shot of Los Angeles and accompanying aural collage of dramatic 911 calls, the flick wastes no time in charging from the gate. Penned by Richard D'Ovidio (Thir13en Ghosts) and based on an original story by Nicole D'Ovidio, Jon Bokencamp, and the scribe, The Call revolves around veteran 911 operator Jordan (Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry), who, fielding a home break-in call from a fair-haired teenage girl, attempts to assist her, with unfortunately disastrous results (the caller is located and murdered by the intruder following Jordan's inexplicable decision to hit "redial" upon losing the connection, which subsequently compromises the girl's hiding place).
Now suffering post traumatic stress disorder and harboring a healthy guilt complex following her caller’s murder, Jordan is soon thrust professionally once again into the fray, as yet another blonde pubescent (Oscar-nominee actress Abigail Breslin) has been abducted, wouldn't you know it, by the same man (The Divide actor Michael Eklund, who portrays child-killer Michael Foster), whom Jordan suspects of slaughtering the prior girl. Imprisoned in the trunk of the kidnapper's speeding car, Casey's plight (as well as the majority of the first and second acts) plays out over the course of the emergency call which she places to Jordan (conveniently on an untraceable cell phone, which elicits some ingenuity from screenwriter D’Ovidio, and subsequently from Jordan, in her attempt to locate and save the girl).
While this machination does require viewers to suspend their disbelief that Foster is unable to hear the hysterical conversation emanating from his trunk, or Casey’s kicking out of the vehicle’s rear tail light, for that matter, it works quite well. Anderson’s tight-framing and cross-cutting between the 911 call center, Casey and the pursuing LAPD ground and air units, coupled with Berry and Breslin’s emotionally charged and committed performances and D’Ovidio’s believable procedural dialogue, succeeds in generating considerable suspense. Additionally, the appearance of supporting player Michael Imperioli adds some choice meat to the bone. Some clever narrative turns as well keep the audience engaged and guessing.
The problem, however, arrives during the final act, when Jordan leaves the intriguing world of the call center (and thus that narrative environment) in an attempt to locate Casey, something LAPD officers Paul Philips and Jake Devans (portrayed by actors Morris Chestnut and David Otunga) have been unable to do (both actors put in good performances, though unfortunately aren’t given much to work with). All too conveniently, Jordan without pause locates Foster’s unsurprisingly creepy lair, and The Call’s third act quickly descends down a grim rabbit hole into serial killer cliche, eschewing its effectively taut, suspense-thriller identity for something exploitative (the sexualizing of the bra-clad, underage Breslin seems unnecessary and ugly) and rather formulaic (comparisons to the final act of the superior The Silence of the Lambs are unavoidable). Further, Jordan and Casey’s last-minute turn to vigilante avengers seems a questionable choice, given their preceding characterizations.
Still, The Call is a fun ride while it lasts, and even with the third act, it’s worth a matinee. Here’s hoping, though, for Anderson’s return to the type of daring, thoughtful filmmaking he delivered previously with Session 9, Transsiberian and The Machinist.
3 out of 5