By Bret Dorman
There are two types of movie violence. The realistic kind that is meant to “disgust” and the fun kind that is meant to be… well, fun.
Before seeing The Call I was all set to rip it apart for being silly, ridiculous, non-sensical, and most importantly, for having “fun” torture porn-esque levels of violence while trying to remain dramatic and serious.
Problem is… after seeing the movie, I was impressed by how they approached the whole situation from the killer’s gradual decline, the girl’s “moves” as she tried to escape, the operator’s ability to keep calm and solve the puzzle with a ticking clock, but most importantly, the violence was not meant to be fun. All around, The Call handles everything with a maturity I didn’t expect… BEFORE ultimately moving to crazy-town. But by then it had won me over.The Story: Jordan (Halle Berry) is an expert 911 operator who makes one simple mistake and thus is responsible for a bad thing happening. She moves on but gives up taking the calls, instead opting to become the trainer for the facility. However, one fateful day she is thrust back into the hot seat with a head set and forced to face her past. Also, you may want to get two cell phones after seeing this movie.
First things first!!! Halle Berry’s hair. Amiright? Yes, I like everyone else questioned how seriously I could take this movie after seeing Berry’s ‘do in the previews/poster. That’s why I assumed this entire movie would be crazy. But I respect the bold choice. Obviously Berry is not a normal person. In real life she’s a beautiful actress who has won an Oscar and can control the weather with HER MIND!!! Point being, she’s not an ordinary person, she’s extraordinary in her field. In fact, I wondered why an Academy Award winning actress might pick something like “The Call” as a movie to be in her filmography. At face value it’s not indie enough for indie-cred but it’s also not bug budget-y enough to do just for the paycheck. The simple fact is The Call needs Berry more then she needs The Call. The role calls for someone to deliver an outstanding performance with many tonal shifts. And Halle Berry nails them all. Bravo!In fact, Abigail Breslin is really good as well. I appreciate that her character is the nice and sweet one and her friend is the total teenage slut who has two phones to hide her boyfriends who want to do crazy sex acts with her! And her friend tries to get Breslin to swear but she just can’t. It’s a nice touch that our second main character (in distress) is not a total asshole, the trend that seems to populate most “teen” movies. Breslin spends most the movie thinking she is going to die and her commitment to that energy as well as being talked down by Berry is impressive.
The danger of a movie like The Call is a lot of people will just criticize the movie on a very ‘action-based’ criteria. “Why doesn’t she just hit him and run away?!” or “Why don’t they have her make a mark or trail?!” or “Why can’t they just look up the info?!” are all things people watching the movie might think. But it is a movie. With its own agenda. And one that, in my opinion, actually goes through pretty well what these two characters might be able to do in this situation while ALSO offering up some twists and turns and speedbumps along the way to change things up and keep it moving. Because the two ladies are never able to catch a solid footing the tension ratchets up dramatically. Unfortunately, because they have to keep throwing in obstacles, the kidnappers usual way of overcoming them gets more and more ridiculous. Michael Eckland plays the role well, going from confident to frazzled to distraught to complete crazy, but there are a couple of “really?” moments, which is expected of a movie like this.
Between the rising tension, neat tricks, good acting, and frantic pacing I found myself having fun with the script while becoming increasingly concerned with how they were going to save Breslin. I was enjoying the hole they were digging for themselves and interested to see how they were going to get out.
Spoilers!I’m not so convinced the opening needed to be there, but I appreciate it for showing why Berry moved from operator to trainer as well as raising the stakes later and making it personal enough for Berry to actually go out into the field. It’s a necessary evil for building to the climax they needed to get to.
I for one was expecting Berry to move into the field A LOT sooner and have this movie just completely throw logic out the window. Instead, we actually sit down and anchor into “the call” for a large portion of the movie. As the cops desperately search for clues Berry is forced to both keep Breslin calm while trying to help her escape or leave a trail.
When Eckert killed the guy in the Lincoln I thought it was a bit much but when he burned the gas station attendant I thought that was way too over the top. But somehow even in the midst of laughing at the surreal-ness of the situation I couldn’t help but feel the fright of the killer, especially when Berry said his name to him on the phone. He’s done for, there’s no going back, so why not do this last one and face the consequences later?Let’s examine what happens in the last half hour of this movie, shall we? The fake out of the cottage being the killer’s location is nice but the fact that he has a super secret basement area complete with torture chamber and sex fetish cancer death girl’s room is balls to the walls crazy. The fact that Berry listens to the tape and hears something is cliche, but at least the sound is used as a callback cue, not as a direct clue. The fact Berry shows up without any weapon whatsoever is one of those nitpicky criticisms. She didn’t need to have a gun, but at least a crowbar or tire iron. And did she ABSOLUTELY HAVE to drop her phone? Eh… I could have done without that, even if it got her underground and out of service.
I thought it was a bit much for the killer to take off Breslin’s shirt but at least they didn’t remove anything else. Nor does he make any explicit sexual moves or rape-y acts during the scenes. The intent is clear enough. We get it. Like with the violence, they don’t show more than they absolutely need to and the tone is more about how disturbing it is, not how much fun we should be having during those scenes. I was still impressed by how director Brad Anderson kept a sense of style during these moments without making the violent tone itself cool.The absolute end where Breslin and Berry team up to tie the guy to the chair and lock him in is great. Instead of going all out and torturing him they just leave him there. And like with old school kung fu flicks, the movie ends on his demise. The final “It’s already done” callback gets a cheer from the audience then blam-o, credits. In fact, I would have clapped if the movie went to a “THE CALL” title card instead of just starting with rolling the credits. But oh well.
The last half hour is absolutely absurd and goes right to the heart of crazy-town, which I was expecting from the entire movie. But since screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio did a good job in its first hour and took the premise seriously while offering up some good twists and bumps, you know what? I’ll give him the leeway he earned and accept the fact that the killer is 100% bonkers and Berry goes out and finds him, because that (and surprisingly not the violence) is what makes the movie entertaining.
In Conclusion, The Call was smarter than I was expecting in handling its self-made puzzle while also offering up some fun and crazy moments. It’s a straight to DVD level movie given a shiny but serious gloss and the acting raises it one step further. I was ready to go in and pick this movie apart at its own expense but instead I came out having a good time because in all honesty, it’s a good movie.
Final Grade: B
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