‘The Call’ movie review: Halle Berry is a 911 operator in tense thriller

A teenage girl is kidnapped and thrown in the trunk of a car. She manages to call 911, where an operator navigates her through the situation while trying to pinpoint her location. This is a can’t-miss premise; I really dug something similar a decade ago in Cellular

But WWE Studios isn’t exactly known for tight, well-produced thrillers. The professional wrestling subsidiary has made a name for itself in bland, dumbed-down actioners starring its parent company’s talent like The Condemned (Steve Austin) and 12 Rounds (John Cena). 

And this territory is precisely where the screenplay to The Call – attributed to Richard D’Ovidio, who last wrote the Steven Seagal vehicle Exit Wounds) – finds itself. We don’t expect subtlety, or even plausibility, from films like this, but there’s a limit to how much we’re willing to accept. D’Ovidio’s script – particularly the cliché-ridden conclusion – frequently crosses that limit, and squanders its terrific premise in the process.

Saving grace: director Brad Anderson, one of the last names you’d expect to find on a project like this. Anderson, who has skillfully handled a wide range of genres (Happy Accidents, Session 9, The Machinist) in the indie realm, is the reason The Call ends up being a taut, even exciting thriller that is better than it has any right to be. 

There’s a near-silent 10-minute sequence toward the end of the film that is yell-at-the-screen implausible, but it’s been shot and edited with such craft that it becomes genuinely tense despite itself.

Halle Berry stars as the 911 operator, Jordan Turner, who makes a critical mistake during a home invasion call that leads to the abduction and murder of a young woman. Six months later, she’s training new recruits. I appreciated the early scenes at ‘The Hive’, which take the time to document the inner-workings of a 911 call center, but once the plot kicks in there’s little room for anything else.

Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) is the girl, who is abducted from a shopping center parking garage in the middle of the day. She wakes up in the trunk of a moving car, the only light provided by her cell phone, which the kidnapper (Michael Eklund) has thoughtfully left behind; I initially thought he wanted her to call the police, as part of a sick cat-and-mouse game, but no – he’s just an idiot, according to the script.

So Casey calls 911 and reaches Jordan, who attempts to talk her through the situation. Because she’s using a prepaid phone, the call can’t be traced, or traced easily, the movie tells us. Of course, that’s nonsense. 

Criminal types might use prepaid phones because they are cheap and disposable and don’t leave any paperwork; they can’t be easily traced back to them. But the signal from a disposable phone can be triangulated just like any other cell. Apparently, someone got confused here…

It’s stupidity, but at least the movie is trying to explain itself in order to set up the plot. This I am willing to forgive. Other stupidity – including actions taken by characters that really ought to know better – I have more trouble with. We see the same stuff in movie after movie, relentlessly, and shouting at the screen isn’t helping. “Don’t go in there alone!” “He’s right behind you!” “He’s not dead!”

But The Call is well-paced, entertaining, and even filled with some nice little touches (the killer’s taste in music includes Karma Chameleon and Taco’s Puttin’ On The Ritz). In box office terms, it’s also become Anderson’s most successful film to date; here’s hoping he gets some better material to work with in the future. 


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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