If there was any one person who truly has their finger on the pulse of a city it would have to be a 911 operator. On the evidence of this film, and from my limited knowledge of the position, being a 911 operator must be one of the most difficult, stressful and unenviable jobs around.
In The Call, a taut thriller from director Brad Anderson, Halle Berry plays Jordan, an L.A. 911 operator who receives a call from a teenage girl in the process of being abducted. The girl, Casey (Abigail Breslin) is in the trunk of a car calling on a pre-paid, dispensable phone. The pre-paid makes it tougher for the 911 operator to trace the call – dispensable phones have no tracking.
Moments before taking the call, Jordan had told a group of potential future operators that you must never make promises to a caller you can’t keep, but once she becomes involved with the hysterical teenager she finds herself breaking her own rule. “What’s your favorite movie?” Jordan asks the teenager in an attempt to calm her down while doing her best to keep the girl on the line. “Er… Bridesmaids,” answers the teenager. “Mine too!” replies Jordan.
Watching and listening to how the operators work in extreme situations you get what appears to be a real sense of the stress and danger of the job. Up until the sixty minute mark, the film effectively succeeds in keeping you on the edge of your seat. It wastes little time in setting things up, and once the abduction starts and the call comes in, the film becomes both a genuine nail-biter and a cinematic exercise in watching police procedure come alive.
And then something happens.
You can practically see the dividing line. It’s the point where the police enter the home of the suspected kidnapper and start to piece together a motive for the kidnapping, and this is where the construct of a fictional writer takes over.
The script appears to be an original, written specifically as a screenplay and not based on a novel, but the way the final thirty minutes is pieced together you sense the work of a pulp fiction novelist at large, and like many paperback page turners, what works within the pages of a book can go glaringly wrong on the screen. Once the teenager’s line is finally disconnected and the police take over, our intrepid 911 operator is told by her supervisor to go home. Instead, she puts herself right into the situation to the point where she becomes a larger part of the story and even finds herself confronting the kidnapper. That sense of reality established so well in the first two thirds of the film is blown in the final third.
Both Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin give fine performances, adding to that sense of urgency and making you believe that what you’re witnessing is how things can really be, but it’s that Silence of the Lambs type climax that strips the film of its reality. In a different kind of thriller, one where you know from the beginning how the story is developing and where it’s going, the motives of the kidnapper and the fate of the characters might have worked, but when The Call goes to such great lengths to establish something real then leaps head first into a different genre where characters behave in ways that make you want to shout at the screen, you can’t help but feel disappointed at a missed opportunity.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 95 minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)