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3/15/2013

Review: 'The Call', starring Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin



Let's just be straight forward about The Call, ok? There are probably very few people who are expecting much from it, looking like a fairly generic action movie and another failed attempt by Halle Berry to mount a career resurgence. If the film were an utter disaster it wouldn't be that big of a deal, but the reality is far more disappointing. For a good stretch, it's actually an intense, well-directed thriller told from a rarely-seen perspective. And then for whatever reason, it's like all the light bulbs went out in the heads of everyone involved.

Directed by Brad Anderson, who came to fame with the slightly overrated drama The Machinist before following it up with the superb train mystery Transsiberian, The Call takes us inside "the hive"(also the film's original title), the 911 call center that manages every crisis situation in the city. Beneath an odd mop of hair is the gorgeous Halle Berry, who plays Jordan, a veteran operator who has found a way to be personable while also doing a job that almost screams for isolation. The daughter of a cop, she learned from him the ability to deal with being the difference between life and death for some people. That is until a simple mistake anyone could have made leads to the murder of a young girl by an intruder, then Jordan finds herself wondering if she can carry that burden any longer.

She's still dealing with that question months when an emergency call comes in from another young girl.  Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin plays Casey Weldon, a kidnap victim stolen right out of her favorite mall and tossed in a car trunk. Breslin's past roles inform our fear and terror for her, and we're thrust right there in that claustrophobic situation right alongside her.  Using a pre-paid phone, she dials up 911 and gets Jordan on the line, who must push aside her own anxiety and get to the business of making sure this girl survives.

The film puts us right in the heart of the nerve center, casually introducing us to the technology at hand and the information at their disposal. It's an inside look we rarely get, and one of the most clever aspects is how even the tiniest detail can then be extrapolated to present a fuller picture of the emergency. The bulk of the story takes place in only two places, the call center and the car trunk, with occasional diversions for the kidnapper to viciously remove any human obstacles in his path. Anderson keeps the tension high as Jordan tries to stay one step ahead, using every trick up her sleeve to triangulate Jordan's whereabouts. Meanwhile the actual cops always seem to be everywhere they know the culprit isn't. That's one of the script's biggest flaws up to that point, because if the police were that incompetent they'd all be fired the next day. The villain is a true psycho, one of those creepy nutballs with a disturbing fetish ripped straight from The Silence of the Lambs. When he goes into a rage, the camera freezes at the point of violent impact. It's an effective camera trick that paints the culprit as uncontrollable and unpredictable.

As effective as The Call is up to that point, that's how completely stupid it gets in the final stretch. It's almost as if the screenwriter quit and the job was given to the Saturday Night Live staff. Logic is tossed out the window as Jordan takes matters into her own hands, venturing into dark caves and underground lairs to confront a known killer. It makes no sense, and rather than evoking chills is more likely to have the audience erupting in howls of laughter. Many films struggle with keeping a consistent tone, but the ball is dropped here to such a degree that it demands a public Mea culpa.