Monday, September 2, 2013

The Call

The Call is a thriller in the same vein of Phone Booth or Cellular (both of which were penned by B-movie god Larry Cohen), in which a character is in contact with another via telephone for the majority of the film and all the character/plot developments come from the conversations between them since there’s no room for flashy direction or crazy shenanigans. The Call ends up being the best of the bunch… until something completely out of place happens and ruins all the good will it built up over its short runtime.

The set-up is that veteran 911 operator Jordan (Halle Berry), who is now training new operators instead of manning the phones after a young girl ended up dead during a disastrous call she accepted, gets pulled back into the saddle when a teenage kidnap victim (Abigail Breslin) dials 911 from the trunk of her abductor’s car.
If there is one thing this flick has going for it, it is tension. I am serious when I say that I was on edge for a good portion of The Call thanks to Brad Anderson’s (The Machinist, Session 9) expert direction. He manages to wring nearly every single drop of suspense from the situation as he possibly can and the movie benefits greatly from it. His style never interferes with the storytelling and he keeps events low key for the most part (setting someone on fire in broad daylight isn’t a subtle way to make a getaway) and smartly focuses on the actors and making sure they are selling the tale as it spins on. I was hoping he would get his shit together and give us another decent thriller due to his last couple of projects being horribly, horribly disappointing (Transsiberian, Vanishing on 7th Street). Thankfully that is the case. I look forward to what he has in store for audiences in the future. I’d love to see what this guy could do for a dark superhero tale like The Crow, Spawn or even a new Blade flick.
Halle Berry must’ve banking on this being her big comeback performance, because she puts her all into her character and never comes across as diva-ish like she normally does. After appearing in a couple of direct-to-video movies she must have lobbied hard to get this part and it paid off because she’s due to appear in a slew of big budget Hollywood fare soon, X-Men: Days of Future Past being the most notable. Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Nim’s Island, Zombieland) has totally shed her cutesy and adorable younger phase for a more self-assured and confident time in her hopefully long career. Her character goes through hell and back over the course of the film and she made me believe she was genuinely terrified and desperate for help. Thankfully her character isn’t written as some wimpy coward, as she attempts multiple times to take on her kidnapper head on to escape. Michael Eklund does a great job of making his villain role creepy and somewhat sympathetic. Sure, the things he’s doing to these girls he kidnaps are horrific and detestable, but once we learn the reasons behind it the role becomes more than a little tragic in nature. Still, he goes for broke and makes for one hell of a bad guy.
The entire production is top notch across the board. Tom Yatsko’s cinematography is pretty rad, especially in the trunk-bound scenes. The editing by Avi Youabian is tight and contains not a single useless shot. The tense and pulse-pounding score by John Debney is the perfect accompaniment to the on-screen events and helped to sell the emotional connection to the audience. At least in my case it did. I want the soundtrack. The set designs are simple and feel lived in, especially in the case The Hive (the 911 facility). I can’t complain at all about the technical aspects. However…

The problem I have with this movie pops up in the last couple of minutes. It’s such a broad, out of character development that I nearly ruined the film for me. I won’t ruin the twist, but know this… I didn’t believe for a second that the person(s) involved would do anything this at all, and with that all the development over the course of the movie’s 90 minute runtime was tossed away in one fell swoop. Writer Richard D'Ovidio either didn’t know how to end the screenplay properly, or this is yet another reshot ending brought on by the studio’s fear of a test audience’s reaction. Whatever the case may be, it’s bullshit.
When I add up all the pros and cons of this radically uneven film I have to say that it’s easy to recommend regardless of how off the rails it ends up going in its final moments. Some may be more forgiving than I, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly the complete deal breaker I make it out to be. I still enjoyed the movie as a whole. Just know that it’s not all it could have been had the ending been more satisfying.  Give it a rent. It’s worth it.

3.5 out of 5

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