Call, The (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Having failed to save a girl’s life six months prior, 911 operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) quit her post and became a teacher for trainees. While doing rounds, a co-worker gets a call from a girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin) who claims that she has been kidnapped and she is inside the trunk of a car. Her location does not show up on the monitor because she is using a disposable phone. In order to triangulate where she is exactly, some time is required–time that she might not have because she and her kidnapper are en route to his hideout and the battery is running out. Jordan takes the call from the panicked operator. She feels anxious, unsure if she is ready to perform the job with the necessary focus and pragmatism.
For the most part of “The Caller,” based on the screenplay by Richard D’Ovidio, it is a tremendously entertaining thriller. It presents a situation, the facts that go with it, and it is dealt with methodically without being showy. But the picture takes a critical misstep about two-thirds of the way through. A first-rate thriller deteriorates into a series of typical scenes like someone sneaking into the suspected perpetrator’s dark sanctuary, dropping the phone, and having to hold one’s breath while being in the same room as the suspect.
And yet I am recommending the picture because the elements that it gets right are exciting and the performances are believable. The writing and direction pull us into the world of scary, sad, sometimes random, and suspenseful LAPD 911 calls partly because we are shown details of how an emergency call is processed.
We see what the screens look like, how many of them are on an operator’s desk, and what sorts of information are pulled up during a call. We listen to the sorts of questions asked, how they are asked, and some strategies on how to help the person on the other line to calm down. We can even observe how operators might react when presented with gruesome details. They are, after all, people, too. Their voices might sound in control but their appearances might communicate otherwise. They are good at what they do, but no one is infallible or completely detached.
The cuts are quick but fluid during Jordan and Casey’s phone conversations. With the help of a stripped down score, sometimes simple but rhythmic beats, there is an increasing steady tension as the kidnapping unfolds. I enjoyed how the bystanders are handled: they are introduced, they make an impact on the direction of the plot, and we never see them again. The focus is on the method of the rescue.
The last act is somewhat passable, I guess, if one is looking for cheap thrills. I am not: I look for intelligence, consistency, and genuinely surprising moments. Since the material functions on a high level for most of its running time, the difference is noticeable and frustrating. At its worst, the last stretch does not seem to fit with the movie. It surrenders to the the simple mindset of getting from Point A to Point B and then a scuffle. It is predictable. Contrasting the denouement and the buildup, the latter is superior because it gives the impression that almost anything can happen.
But “The Caller,” directed by Brad Anderson, is, for the most part, a good time. I was curious as to how–or if–Casey will be rescued and if the kidnapper (Michael Eklund) will get away. Also, I cared about Jordan and Casey’s relationship as strangers who must build a level of trust with each other. It is not a complete package but what it offers is an above average flick that can be enjoyed in the moment and forgotten as soon as it ends.