Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Call

The Call: Poster starring Halle Berry | A Constantly Racing Mind
"911, where's your emergency?"

I must admit, the reason I went to see the film "The Call" was solely for the fact that Halle Berry was starring in it.  What I didn't expect was also an excellent performance by 17 year-old Abigail Breslin.  What I also didn't expect was a film that was all about the suspense factor.  Director Brad Anderson, whose credits include the films "Transsiberian" - 2008, "The Machinist" – 2004, along with a ton of television shows, brings to the screen a story about a kidnapped girl and the 911 operator who tries to save her. "The Call" is rated R for violence and language and runs about an hour and a half.

The first thing I noticed about "The Call" is that the storyline reminds me of an intense episode any of the crime procedurals available on primetime television.  What writer Richard D'Ovidio ("Thir13en Ghosts" - 2001) and his collaborators, wife Nicole D'Ovidio, and Jon Bokenkamp ("Taking Lives" - 2004, "Bad Seed" - 2000), bring to the table is the different perspective that primetime doesn't offer, the perspective of the 911 operator. The 911 operator is really the first person to respond to a victim’s call.  What happens is a story that builds steadily into a suspenseful case of cat and mouse that escalates in both intensity and violence.  However, when getting to the point of climax, either Anderson or the writers lost their train of thought and end up leaving the audience unfulfilled and a bit disappointed. 

Halle Berry plays senior 911 operator Jordan Turner.  She works in the hive, the hub of communications for the city of Los Angeles.  Jordan is safe in the hive, as the place is secure. However, every time she answers a call at her very highly technologically sophisticated operator's station she lets in a little bit of the not-so-safe world outside.  Director Anderson does a great job settling the audience into this environment with shots of the work center, overlapping 911 calls, other operators taking calls, and Jordon's friendly banter with her co-workers.  Today, we catch Jordan on a bad day.  She takes a call from a teen-aged girl who is alone at home, and an intruder is trying to break into the house.  She gives the girl directions, and talks in soothing tones to help the girl concentrate on her situation.  The intruder breaks in and the girl runs upstairs and hides under a bed.  She is quiet, and as the intruder searches the room, with Jordan's help, she retains her senses.  That is, until her phone call drops.  Jordan, who has become emotionally attached (bad Jordan) to the victim, calls the girl back.  The intruder, who is already on his way out the door to check elsewhere, hears the girl's phone ring and he dashes back up the stairs and grabs the girl from out from under the bed.  Although the police are on the way, their E.T.A. is still too far away to help.  Pleading with the perpetrator to spare the girl, the man who has his victim immobilized, kills the child viciously. 

Let's talk story development for a moment.  We start with a perfectly normal character, experienced and confident in her abilities.  Now, let’s give this character a weakness or take away one of her positive abilities, and now you have a more vulnerable Jordan.  Halle Berry does a great job of playing Jordan both ways and is believable in both roles.  While trying to heal from the psychological effects of hearing a child murdered on the phone she takes up training new operators for a while.  Enter Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin).  Casey is your typical Southern California teenager – independent, social, and a mall rat.  Hanging out in one of the many L.A. area malls with her friend, Casey's bff is the more rebellious type and has a boy that she is seeing behind her parents back.  In order to do this, she has her own prepaid cell phone, neat trick.  Having to rush off for some pretense she accidentally leaves her phone behind and Casey finds it, and nonchalantly slips it in her back pocket.

The Call: Halle Berry at work in the hive | A Constantly Racing Mind
I want my teen-aged kids to see this.  I am not the type of parent to tell my kids scary bedtime stories about the evils of the world.  I want to show them.  I constantly remind my daughter and son to pay attention to their surroundings, to have their keys ready when walking to her car, and to walk with confidence.  All of these admonitions Casey doesn't do.  Her own cellphone in hand she absentmindedly walks toward her car in the parking structure.  Waiting in his car for just the right moment, Canadian actor Michael Eklund who plays our serial killer Michael Foster leaps into action, and kidnaps our heroine.  Casey awakes, startled, and scared in the trunk of a moving car.  Foster, fortunately like his music loud.  Driving around L.A.'s freeways, he is oblivious to the pounding, crying, and screaming that is coming from the back of his car.  Perhaps I watch too much ‘Criminal Minds, or ‘C.S.I,’ or just too much television in general, but most of what comes next is from many of the episodes that I have seen since these type of shows debuted.  Everything about this antagonist seems a bit too easy to profile.

Fate catches up with Jordan as she tours the hive with a small group of noobs.  While stopping at the desk of a newer operator, Casey remembers that she has her friend’s cell phone and makes the 911 call.  At this point, I am now curious as to the level of training and experience of the 911 callers in my area.  The poor operator was lost and incompetent in the face of a real emergency.  Of course, if it weren’t for this little plot line, our story couldn't proceed.  Jordan, hesitates, the thought of the girl she caused to lose her life comes to mind.  Springing to action, Jordan takes the call and starts running the victim step by step through the numbers.  Where is she, who is she, what is going on, etc...?  What?  Her phone has no GPS.  Of course it doesn't, it's a throw away, meant to deceive mom and dad.  Another life lesson learned.

The Call: Abigail Breslin plays a victim kidnapped from a mall | A Constantly Racing Mind

Breslin plays Casey, in a way I think is somewhat believable for a kid that age.  What I liked about Breslin's performance was that she didn't scream her fool head off all the time.  I remember muting the sound while watching Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning in 'War of the Worlds.’  Dakota Fanning's shrill, high-pitched screaming made her scenes annoying and unwatchable.  Casey becomes the eyes and ears of the police that are trying to affect her rescue.  Act 2 includes the cat and mouse chase mentioned at the beginning of this review, as well as the collateral death of two innocent witnesses. These deaths seem contrived to make our killer more evil, including the ignoble death of a businessman just trying to help.  'The Soprano’s' Michael Imperioli dies like a little girl, which I found totally ridiculous.  Not sure what the writers were thinking about when they wrote that scene.

The third act is where the story begins to unravel.  For two thirds of 'The Call' Jordan has spent her time in the hive, the scream room, or her home.  Now, for some inexplicable and totally unbelievable reason this person trained to take calls and to forward to the appropriate agency now decides that she needs to get out into the field.  I applaud Anderson and company for doing an excellent job of getting me to the edge of my chair.  I commend Berry and Breslin for making me care about their characters.  Hell, I even hated Michael Eklund for his sinisterly disturbed version of a psycho-killer.  'The Call' does a great job of keeping my adrenaline pumping but failed to get me to a point of full catharsis.  'The Call' is worth watching for the acting, the suspense, and it does its job as thriller.  I recommend 'The Call' as a good film to watch on a date or on DVD or Blue-ray when it comes out.  You have been warned so don't get pissy when the film is over.

Movie Data

Genre: Crime, Thriller
Year: 2013
Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, Michael Imperioli, David Otunga
Brad Anderson
Bradley Gallo, Michael A. Helfant, Michael J. Luisi, Jeffrey Graup, Robert Stein
Richard D'Ovidio, Nicole D'Ovidio, Jon Bokenkamp
Rating: R
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: 3/15/2013

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