Director: Brad Anderson
Screenwriter: Richard D’Ovidio
Cast: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, Michael Imperioli, David Otunga
Running time: 94 minutes
When a mistake by 911 operator Jordan (Berry) leads to the death of a young girl, she’s overcome by guilt and feels doubly compelled to help the next abducted girl (Breslin) escape from the clutches of her mysterious kidnapper, who she thinks is the same man.
It’s surprisingly rare these days to sit down to a thriller and be genuinely thrilled. You know, thrilled to the point of an increased pulse, clenched fists, sweaty palms and lip-biting – everything the thriller aspires to. That being the case, I think The Call – director Brad Anderson’s ode to Cortes’ Buried and Schumacher’s Phone Booth – is largely a success.
Our set-up is simple: what if your mistake caused the death of an innocent person, and what would you do if given a second chance? Perhaps the greatest achievement of the film is that it never sways from this idea. I cite Buried and Phone Booth as direct influences because they possessed the same discipline; they were never tempted to try to be more than they were. They had a simple but effective premise which was followed through on and paid off. Nothing more. In the case of The Call, we know basically where we’re headed (at times a little too much thanks to the over-explanatory trailer) and we’re excited about it. There’s no reason to veer off path, because it’s completely effective with what it has.
It really is a relentless and frantic beast, with the second act in particular pumping up the tension as Jordan struggles with her own demons while trying as hard as she can to get the kidnapped Casey out of the boot she’s been stuffed in. If, like me, you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know ultimately how it climaxes, or at least how parts of it climax, yet somehow that doesn’t ruin the spell. One particular scene at a gas station springs to mind; a sequence which was completely spoiled in said trailer, but joyfully still had me gripping the end of my seat. Something about the film just works. It clicks. All the elements fall together into one functioning, cogent little motor.
Perhaps the third act loses a little something, in that the thrills diminish slightly and it ever so subtly toys with the idea of exploding into a budgetary climax, but it just about keeps things in check and I kept with it. If you’ve been won over by the first two-thirds of the film, generally you won’t be bothered by the third, and the unconventional ending which has sparked a few complaints, I would argue, kind of works. If you allow it to.
The two leads, Berry and Breslin, are fantastic. Breslin, who’s grown up somewhat since her glorious Little Miss Sunshine and even Zombieland days is incredibly convincing, making us believe for every second in her fear and claustrophobia. Again to go back to Buried, much like Ryan Reynolds’ Paul Conroy, she spends much of her time trapped in a dark box with nothing but a mobile phone. How do you make acting choices in such confines? Well, that’s for them to know. Halle Berry, too, while I’m not always convinced by her, plays her part of the troubled 911 operator really well.
A genuinely nice surprise. This is a really neat, effective thriller that doesn’t overstay its welcome or try to do more than it has to, and that should be worth celebrating.