- Movie Rating -

The Call (2013)

| March 18, 2013 | 0 Comments

Brad Anderson’s The Call is a thriller that, for about the first hour or so, runs on a degree of tension and efficient writing.  The screenplay is written with lock-step thinking that keeps you riveted.  Unfortunately, it can’t maintain that tone and is burned down by a nonsensical third act that is just plain stupid.  We’ll get to that in a moment.

Halle Berry stars as Jordan Turner, a Los Angeles 911 operator who fields calls for emergencies and criminal activities of all shapes and sizes.  She is required to do her job with a balance of empathy and emotional detachment.  She has to keep the caller calm without either becoming emotionally involved or making promises to the person on the other end of the line.  Despite this, her emotions get the best of her with alarming regularity.  One call in particular helps us understand why.  Some time ago she fielded a call from a teenage girl who was home alone when a man attempted to break into the house.  Jordan made a critical – though not unreasonable – mistake that cost the girl her life.

Jordan’s co-workers don’t blame her for the incident, but six months later she has moved off the phone service and is training new operators.  One day, while showing a group of trainees around, a newly trained operator (Jenna Laima) gets a call from a teenage girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin) who says she has been kidnapped from a mall parking lot.  She is locked in the trunk of someone’s car and is being driven somewhere.  The problem for dispatch is that they can’t trace the call because Casey is using a disposable phone.  The operator is clearly unequipped to handle the call so Jordan steps in.

The rest of the plot is difficult to describe without some degree of spoilers, so if you want to go in cold, stop here.

What follows for the next hour is the stuff of great thrillers.  Jordan, at the control desk, attempts to get Casey, who is in the trunk, to make the car identifiable to the police so that they can spot it without making the driver of the vehicle aware of what is going on.  Jordan is not only talking with Casey but also with the police who are trying to pinpoint exactly where the car is headed.  Fortunately for Casey, her kidnapper likes to drive around with the stereo at a high volume.  That allows her to make as much noise as she wants as she tries to signal for help.  Certain objects around the trunk, a can of paint and a screwdriver come in very handy.

A lot of other things happen during the search for Casey that are difficult to describe without giving too much away.  The stakes get higher, the tension builds, and for a while we are squarely involved in what is happening.  At one point, Casey and the driver end up in a different car and that takes the plot to a different level, especially after Casey made the previous car identifiable to the police.

Unfortunately, director Brad Anderson can’t keep the tension going.  The last half-hour of the movie goes from efficient thriller to lame Silence of the Lambs wannabe in which people make stupid decisions while the killer chases them around in the dark.  It pulls the rug out from under everything that he has created for the first hour, and the film’s concluding scenes. which take place in the killer’s filthy underground lair, are about as stupid as they are predictable.

Anderson also makes a major misstep involving the killer.  His face is hidden early-on but is soon revealed and seen often.  He is played by Michael Eklund as one of those standard Movie Serial Killers who is all sweat and nervous tics.  A smarter screenwriter might have observed that the scariest thing about real serial killers is the degree of their ordinariness.  Also, the man’s reasons for kidnapping Casey are not very clear.

The problem with the movie is that Anderson doesn’t have the courage to keep the tension where it needs to be – in the phone call between Jordan and Casey.  He has a premise that might work but he gives up.  He made the same mistake four years ago with the thriller Vanishing on 7th Street with Hayden Christensen, in which the dark of night was literally swallowing people up.  In that movie, as in this one, he can’t find a sufficient ending.  He’s got some good ideas in place but he give up and goes for a formula ending that is just plain nonsense.  That’s too bad because, for a while, he really had something.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.