Every once in a great while, a movie must be praised just for refusing to be bland.
The 400-Word Review: The Call
By Sean Collier
March 15, 2013
The Call is not, by traditional standards, a very good movie. The story is improbable; the script is undercooked, with at least two moments where the intended genre palpably shifts. Major elements are lifted from more successful properties.
But, for being positively ridiculous and over-the-top, it is more than worth seeing.
Directed by Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist), The Call casts Halle Berry as hyper-savvy 911 operator Jordan Turner. When Jordan blunders on a high-stakes call and a young girl is murdered, she buckles under the stress and takes a gig training rookies; when one of her charges panics, though, Jordan grabs the headset. A young girl has woken up in a trunk! They can’t trace the call! And — gasp — could it be the same perp from the call that sent Jordan off the rails?
Somewhere in here, The Call decides it’s had about enough of being a drama, and shifts into a Hannibal Lecter-inspired horror flick. The shock of the turn will likely be too much for some viewers, but if you can make it through, you’ll be rewarded with an even more preposterous tonal shift in the film’s closing scenes.
So why does it work? Indulgence, mainly. The first half of The Call is captivating, but operating on a familiar formula; one could picture it as an hour-long network drama, a police procedural from a only-slightly modified perspective. It’d be easy to wrap it up in a traditional, TV-inspired bow; it’s the wild diversions that make The Call remarkable. It feels as though someone said, “Yeah, but wouldn’t it be awesome if...” and the rest of the production crew agreed.
The cast has an off-the-wall mix of elements, too. Berry, fully committed, adds gravitas and believability to several absurd developments. Abigail Breslin, as the ultimate kidnap victim, is working overtime to prove that she’s not a kid anymore — despite the fact that, at 16, she very much still is. Michael Eklund, as the villain, goes full Jigsaw. And the perennially underused Michael Imperioli spices things up during the middle act.
Will it win any awards? Hell no. And many will pan it, for admittedly legitimate reasons. But in a sea of reheated premises, The Call boldly diverts from the playbook to produce an undeniably fascinating train wreck.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark