The Call Reviews
Nate's Grade: B
Greatly acted, slightly predictable but surprising ending, enjoyable and worth a watch!
Nice Thriller! I enjoyed this film quite a bit: it kept a good pace of tension which makes for a good thriller. The acting is good, and it did a good job of giving a glimpse into the operations of 911 call centers which is a fresh topic and it did so without dragging the pace. The weak spots consist mainly of some CSI style technology leaps that only technology morons would buy into, and a single bit of clumsiness that just feels scripted. Unfortunately the CSI technology leaps are very popular in Hollywood and the bit of clumsiness is key to the plot progression. Wait for it to show up on Netflix. If you enjoy a good edge of your seat thriller and can overlook the transgressions, go see it!
Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is an experienced 911 operator but when she makes an error in judgment and a call ends badly, Jordan is rattled and unsure if she can continue. But then teenager Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is abducted in the back of a man's car and calls 911. And Jordan is the one called upon to use all of her experience, insights and quick thinking to help Casey escape, and not just to save Casey, but to make sure the man is brought to justice.
In lesser hands, we would have grown bored right away, because the large majority of this film shows us two people talking on a phone. Anderson, however, ratchets up the tension, aided by a lean, mean script by Richard D'Ovidio , and managed to keep me on the edge of my seat through most of it. Things do run off the rails in the last act, where Halle Berry manages to ignore ALL of her considerable training and become the person audiences are guaranteed to scream such things as, "Don't go in there!" and "Girl!!!".
Additionally, there are a few too many loose ends (seriously with the inability to track the call?) and shoddy police work (if only the cops had looked around a little bit more), and I could have done without Anderson's annoying habit of freeze frames right before something excessively violent was about to happen. The editing is crisp and there isn't one ounce of fat in the film. It hits GO and GOES! Berry is appropriately tense and Breslin proves scrappy, but poor Michael Imperioli is not going to let this topple THE SOPRANOS on his resume. A big shout out to my friend, Rakefet Abergel, who shows up briefly as a fellow operator. WTG Girl!
All in all, THE CALL plays out like an exciting series pilot. Imagine if Clarice Starling from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS could solve crimes using a headset and a good GPS, et voila! It's not terribly deep or original, but it does the job.
The story follows a LAPD 9-1-1 phone operator (Halle Berry) who seeks out vengeance for the murder of a young girl after she accidentally causes her death by calling her phone and alerting the intruder in her home. When the same intruder kidnaps another girl (Abigail Breslin) she gets into action and tries to redeem herself by saving this girl.
The plot of the film is a very long description of what to do if you are a female who is kidnapped by a crazy guy, and it doesn't work. I like the idea of somebody being shown how to escape a psychopath but it really just didn't all add up on the screen. Mainly because the characters don't matter and we never really grow to care about any of them. We are given some innocent and cliché girl near the beginning of the film (played by Breslin) who is sweet and very sympathetic to many audience members, and she also has a friend with her is a bit of a handful to say the least. Than within a few minutes of introducing this character she is kidnapped and we are instantly supposed to root for her and actually care about her, and personally for me I need a little more than some boring characteristics and 3 minutes of screen time to care about who she is. Now the 9-1-1 operator must save her and that is the overall point of the film. I do not criticize the film for this but I just wish we had been given more and I felt that it just didn't deliver. Berry's character is somewhat likable but that is mainly because Berry is such a good actress, which makes me question why she chose such an odd character with her great talents. I couldn't stand the villain of the film, who was nothing more than a prime example of how a villain should not be written in a film. He was just crazy and had no other characteristics or goals that made me care about who he was or what he's done. I will admit this script provides some tense and exciting moments, but it's an overall lazy script that felt like it should've been a short film other than a full feature.
The cast has some very good talent that I believe was the main reason this received any buzz, and they can thank Berry for providing enough talent for a lazy film. Halle Berry gives an emotional performance from an imperfect character, and although she is hidden beneath a boring script I could see that she is still giving it her all in this film. At the beginning of the film I could see some brilliant acting as she looks at the horrors of her own failure, and it really impressed me that she could do so much with so little to work with. This is nothing award worthy, but it still shows me she is a brilliant actress who should not level herself to films like this. Abigail Breslin screams and cries for about 90% of this film, so it was very difficult to rate her performance since she in the trunk of a car for a long period of time. I cannot see why they needed her in the film, I mean they could've gotten any random girl off the street but instead they said "no we need to get Abigail Breslin for this." I just felt like she provided very little to a very boring character. Morris Chestnut wasn't bad, but he really didn't do much that helped enhance the movie or make it memorable. He is establishing himself as a very forgettable actor. Michael Eklund may be a good actor hidden behind a very stupid character, I mean I just couldn't believe how cliché and sad the writers must've been to give pretty much the exact same kidnapper from "Taken." Overall a pretty dull cast with the exception of Berry who is the main reason I, and others, saw this flick.
The Call isn't a movie we can enjoy or talk about, it's just a film that will be forgotten within a few months and will fall into the long history of forgotten films. It's very difficult to review a movie like this because there really is very little to talk about because the film doesn't do anything new that we haven't seen before. Without a doubt many audience members will love the film because they have very low standards and don't care that the film is predictable, but I just have high standards that must be met with a film like this. Director Brad Anderson might know what it takes to make a good thriller, but the script confines him from making any big strides and it makes his direction feel like something I could find on an episode of NCIS. I expect to be amazed when I go to the movies, but this feels just like something we could find on NBC every week. New ideas are something I love to see, and sadly we rarely see this anymore and I am forced to sit through films like this that waste my time and only entertain me every 30 minutes. It low-budget might have been the cause of this, or maybe the lack of good writers, but whatever the problem was it just didn't work well on screen. I can assure you this is not one of the worst film I have seen this year, but I will recommend that you stay away unless you want to have your money wasted.
The film itself is predictable. I felt like I have seen this type of film before. It reminded me of movies like Cellular, Phone Booth, Taken, Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, and Silence of the Lambs. The scene in the beginning where the killer grabs the girl under the bed, reminded me of the scene in Taken. Also the big finale at the end, reminded me of the finale of Silence of the Lambs.
Morris Chestnut does a great job in his supporting role. Roma Maffia is great as Berry's boss. I am surprised that Michael Imperioli took the role he played in this film.
I say, despite the predictability, the film is worth checking out cause of Berry and Breslin.
Needless to say, there are plenty of refreshing areas in this film's plot, and if there isn't, on the whole, storytelling is too inspired for you to mind the conventionalism all that much, but there's no ever truly ignoring the tropes hit by this film, which goes so far as to flaunt a trite score by John Debney that is generally decent on a musical level, and often played with in a fashion that brings its effectiveness more to the forefront than its genericism, but is just as often reflective of a kind of glaring laziness to this film's writing in terms of uniqueness, though not as much as some clichés, many of which can be found within key areas in plotting that cannot afford to get too familiar. In certain areas, the film is kind of predictable, and that's a little bit frustrating, because this film is so sharp in so many areas of its storytelling that you would think that writer Richard D'Ovidio would be more careful with his plot structuring, especially considering that there are points in plot structuring in which D'Ovidio gets to be a bit too careful with his attention to detail. By this, I mean that D'Ovidio gets carried away with his trying to run out the clock on this minimalist thriller, for although the exhaustive attention to detail when it comes to unraveling this intricate plot is generally organic and helps greatly in reinforcing compellingness, after a while, things get to be more repetitious than they should be, leaving the drama to drag out past the point where it can secure your full investment through the challenges to your patience. Like I said, it's not too difficult to see where this plot is going, but as irony would have it, after a while, plotting goes on for too long for you to see the end, no matter how brisk the pacing is, though I can't say that I'm completely upset with D'Ovidio for overdoing the padding, because subject matter this minimalist is going to need plenty of padding if it hopes to achieve a, for it, hefty runtime of 94 minutes. I have just named off only so many issues with the film, and in a moment I will be praising key strengths to no end, so for all extents and purposes, the final product is outstanding, but something goes seriously wrong, and it can be found as far back as, not just the script writing stage, but the story building stage of the film, because the biggest shortcomings to this effort are natural ones, spawned from a certain subject matter simplicity that opens only so many doors for high compellingness, most of which are filled, but only as much as they can be before the wake to emotional strength is retarded by questionable storytelling areas that can never be fully washed away. In plenty of places, the film is incredibly well-done, so much so that it, with its inspired acting and direction, could have relatively easily been, not simply rewarding, but strong, perhaps even excellent, but in the end, the thriller's subject matter is just too minimalist for storytelling this powerful, and if that doesn't water down your appreciation in what is done so very well enough, the aforementioned consequential shortcomings firmly remind you of the natural shortcomings and secure the final product as short of what it wants to be and could have been. Nevertheless, what the final product ultimately is is worthwhile, maybe not to where the film is as strong as its strongest moments, but certainly to where I found myself engaged time and again, even when looking at the basic story concept.
Again, the biggest issue with the film is its story, which is not simply a bit predictable or padded out, but paper-thin in scope, so no matter how good storytelling is, the effectiveness of this story can only go so far, which isn't to say that you should make the serious mistake of thinking that this subject matter is cleansed of relatively high compellingness, even on paper, as there is still enough weight to this story concept for thorough engagement value to be a possibility, and one that is brought more to the light by what is done right in Richard D'Ovidio's script, which is bloated with both conventions and excess material, sure, but intelligent, with remarkably consistent plausibility, as well as many a moment in which an extensive attention to detail goes a long way in pumping up intrigue and, of course, fleshing out the characters. Giving only so much background information on our characters before diving right into fast-pace thrills, this character drama could have easily slipped up as undercooked, but the care that D'Ovidio puts into characterization bonds you with the human forces who drive this drama and are truly brought to life by something I was not expecting to be as strong - nay - outstanding at it is: the acting, or at least that of our leads, with Michael Eklund being fearlessly transformative as the film's disturbed kidnapper antagonist, who Eklund portrays with a piercing subtlety, broken up by terrifying intensity, while a young and, well, admittedly really prettying up Abigail Breslin proves to be revelatory, capturing the overwhelming fear and uncertainty of the kidnapped Casey Welson character with an exhaustingly crushing emotional power that may not be layered enough for Breslin to be all that great, but breaks your heart. These two supporting talents are truly outstanding, but really, if good acting is what you're looking for, then the reason to see this film is Halle Berry, who we've come to forget is exceptionally talented when she wants to be, and who makes good and sure that you remember with her commitment to the role of Jordan Turner that sells you on the sharpness of our lead as a veteran in her field, while a penetrating dramatic range and deeply human atmosphere truly bring out the depths in Turner, a traumatized woman who returns to a place she had abandoned out of guilt in hopes of doing what she wasn't able to do once before: save an innocent life. Outside of our heroine, this dramatic thriller is built around the kidnapped and the kidnapper, whose portrayers are also remarkable, yet if you were somehow able to disregard Eklund and Breslin, you'll find that Berry carries the film with a great performance, something that is all too rarely seen in the first quarter of the year, so if this film has nothing else going for it, it's really, really good acting. However, what can make or break a film built around dramatic subject matter this minimalist is, of course, storytelling, and let me tell you, while it's all but impossible to obscure the film's shortcomings, director Brad Anderson delivers about as much as he can, on style alone, capturing the thriller's freneticism with snappy plays with Avi Youabian's sharp editing and highlights in John Debney's generally generic score, which is not the only audio aspect to the film that Anderson celebrates cleverly, playing up thumping sound editing in order to immerse you into the environment, as surely as he plays up airtight framing in order to capture the intimacy and, in some cases, claustrophobia of the thriller. Stylistically, the Anderson excels as director, and that does a lot to drive both entertainment value and intensity, but what truly brings this film to life is a thoughtfulness to Anderson's storytelling that is not seen as often as it should be in thrillers of this type, and breathes enough life into the film's dramatic heart to compel you on a human level, and sometimes resonates. Anderson's direction is too held back by the minimalism to the film's subject matter to be all that great, but it's still pretty outstanding, and while Anderson can only give you glimpses of an excellent film, he never lets the final product decent into underwhelmingness, joining decent writing and outstanding acting in compelling you about as much as you can be.
When the line is finally cut, some predictability, - spawned through conventions - some dragging and, worst of all, way too much simplicity to the story concept leave the final product to fall short of what it could have been, but through intelligent and well-rounded writing by Richard D'Ovidio, outstanding performances by Michael Eklund, Abigail Breslin and Halle Berry, and stylishly intense and thoughtfully heartfelt direction by Brad Anderson, "The Call" is left standing as, not too strong, but pretty rewarding, with certain aspects that go well beyond expectations.
3/5 - Good