By Niall McArdle
The Call has been sitting on the shelf at the video shop for a while, and I’d always ignored it as:
1: I’m not the world’s biggest Halle Berry fan
2: It looked like it might be an okay film to catch by chance on TV but I didn’t think it was worth renting.
I was wrong.
Berry is surprisingly good and the film is a satisfyingly tense thriller with a couple of edge of your seat moments and a few nice surprises. The director is Brad Anderson, who made The Machinist (which I have not seen but am assured is very good) and Transsiberian (which I have seen and is great). The Call is a good example of a lean, unpretentious suspense movie. There isn’t much padding here, and once the plot gets going, it doesn’t slow down.
Berry plays Jordan Turner, a Los Angeles 911 operator (question: why is it 911? Or rather, why in Ireland is it 999? Which came first? Must look it up). It’s a high-stress job of course, one of the most stressful going. The operators have to make lightning-quick decisions and still keep their calm even as they’re trying to calm panicked callers. No wonder there’s a quiet room where they can go to decompress after a bad call.
Berry advises newbie operators of the rules to keep you sane in this job: stay emotionally detached and never make a promise to a caller – because you can’t keep it. Needless to say, she breaks both of those rules in the course of the film.
Having made a terrible mistake on a call six months ago that cost a caller her life, Berry is just getting her groove back when she answers the phone to a hysterical teenaged girl, Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), who has been kidnapped and is in the boot of a car. She has been abducted by a twisted psychopath (Michael Eklund: very good. I have no idea who he is, but he should get more work), and we learn late in the story his reasons for taking her. The reasons are fairly standard movie serial killer motivations, and there are no real surprises in terms of suspense thriller dynamics when it comes to hunting him down, but it’s a nifty little thriller.
Breslin shows every indication she will be a decent actress as a grown-up. We can only hope she doesn’t fall into the sort of crap that child-stars sadly often do. She spends most of the film in the confines of the boot of the car (not always alone), and she does a good job at conveying the claustrophobia and panic. The camerawork helps here: there are a lot of massive closeups of her eye swivelling as she tries to work out an escape.
She’s helped in all this by Berry’s voice on her cellphone: she calms her down and gets her to give as much information as she can. The film is very good on how 911 operators, eh, operate.
Because Berry is the star of the film, of course she’s going to save the day and find redemption for herself at the same time. Having put both heroines through hell, the film affords them a retribution at the end that will either have you cheering or feeling a certain moral queasiness.
I won’t say much more about the plot so as not to spoil a few pleasant surprises for the audience, including an appearance by a relatively well-known face, whose arrival helps in a great plot-twist. Do yourselves a favour: don’t spoil that surprise by looking the film up on IMDB. (for some reason, there’s a quick shot of him in the trailer, so don’t watch the trailer).
Just get a beer, unplug the phone and watch the film.
Verdict: Four pocket dials out of five.
The DVD includes a behind the scenes feature and a commentary by the filmmakers.
History of 911 and 999 calls here