One of my biggest pet peeves with previews are the ones that tell you things like “the best action movie of the year” or “the funniest movie in ages” or “the greatest performance of fill-in-the-blank’s career.” That kind of hyperbole is almost always a red flag practically daring you to waste your money on seeing whatever film is being advertised. So, is it hypocritical for me to do it in a movie review? No, because I’m not being paid by any movie studios to write my reviews. If I tell you a movie is hilarious or heartwarming or thrilling, at least you know I’m being honest. So, when I say that The Call is heart-pounding, suspenseful, and the best thriller I’ve seen this year, you know I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass.
In The Call, Halle Berry stars as Jordan, a 911 operator relegated to teaching new operators after an exceptionally bad call in which she makes a terrible mistake and cannot handle the pressure any longer. During a training session, a freshly minted operator receives a call from a teenage girl, Casey, (Abigail Breslin) who has been kidnapped and is trapped in the trunk of the kidnapper’s car. The new operator panics and Jordan is forced to take over the call. The rest of the movie consists of an ongoing tension in which you, the viewer, are constantly on the edge of your seat trying not to slip off into whatever is stuck to the floor.
Normally, I’d tell you more about what happens in a film, but every scene is key in maintaining a level of tension that keeps your heart thumping in your mouth. What I will tell you is the kidnapper (Michael Eklund) is a serial killer and is disturbed on a level shared by Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. In fact, they have a few things in common, though collecting butterflies isn’t one of them.
As good as the writing and directing was, the acting is what really makes the movie great, with the exception of Morris Chestnut, who plays Jordan’s boyfriend and is also a cop responding to 911 calls. He’s the only person not exhibiting the appropriate level of urgency during the ordeal. In fact, there are times when he almost seems to forget he’s trying to track down a missing girl before she gets murdered, trying way too hard to console Jordan instead of reassuring her that they will find the girl. Luckily, his parts are few and far between and the film instantly returns to wracking your nerves when it goes back to Jordan or Casey.
It’s hard to say who puts on the better performance between Berry and Breslin. On one hand, Berry seems to always be on the verge of breaking down during the call, using her facial expressions to enhance her lines, and thus her state of being. It’s so well done that you wouldn’t be surprised if she really did cave in and tell Casey she was going to die. On the other hand, Breslin is delivering every line while crying and freaking out, plus, is doing most of this while trapped in a trunk. She was so convincing that it wouldn’t surprise me if the director really did kidnap her and didn’t tell her they were filming. I guess if I have to choose between the two, I go with Breslin simply because it’s amazing to see a sixteen year old girl put on that kind of performance.
Beyond that, there’s not much more I can say without spoiling the movie for you. It’s an incredibly tense movie that is made so due to the urgency of the problem. What’s more telling is how the audience responded. Normally, I hate when the audience is noisy during a movie, but this time it seemed almost necessary. People were yelling things at the screen that were intended to help the girl, as if she could really hear them. It’s just like every sporting event you’ve ever watched where guys are yelling things at the television. And there were so many gasps that if there had been flies in the room, people would have choked to death.
On a final note, I really hope that this movie exaggerated what 911 operators experience on a day-to-day basis. I can’t imagine having to answer a call where someone is hiding in a closet; scared to death, then following that up with a call about a lost kitten. After a week of that, I think my heart would explode.
Rating: Don’t ask for any of your money back and remember to breathe.