The worst type of movie is the type that starts out so strong and has so much potential only to fall apart by the end, completely squandering it. “The Call” is one of those movies and contains one of the most monumental meltdowns I’ve ever seen a film take. One moment, it’s an edge-of-your-seat nail biter and the next, it’s a laughable thriller that takes enough absurd plot turns to completely derail it.
The film stars Halle Berry as Jordan Turner, a 911 operator who has had her fair share of difficult calls. She’s usually at the top of her game, but one night she makes a grave mistake. She receives a call from a young teenage girl reporting an intruder in her house and she advises her to do all the correct things, effectively tricking that intruder into thinking she has fled. However, the call disconnects and she immediately redials. When the phone stops ringing, due to the girl’s answering of it, the intruder realizes she’s still there and finds her. Shortly after, they find the poor girl dead.
It’s a terrific beginning to the film and humanizes Jordan in an unexpected way. When her decision causes that young girl to die, she immediately breaks down and blames herself. She is haunted by what she has done and by the voice on the other end of the phone that tells her “it’s already done” when she pleads him to stop. It’s an effective opening because her job calls for her to be emotionally distant, never minding the fact that she is often the only thing standing between life and death for her callers. Despite her experience on the floor, she finds the event difficult to cope with, as anybody would, creating layers in her personality that a lesser movie would have kept hidden.
Six months later, Jordan has stepped off the operator floor and is training others, still unable to muster up the courage to answer the phone. However, when a newer operator finds herself lost in a similar situation, she takes the reins. This time, the girl is named Casey Welson, played by Abigail Breslin, and she has woken up in the trunk of a car. Here is where the movie works best because it finds its focus. With Casey in that trunk and Jordan at the call center, each talking to the other, you’re able to connect with them and fear for their plight. Their personalities are built up, broken down and the relationship they make with each other is meaningful because Casey knows full well that Jordan could be the last person she ever speaks to. One incredible moment comes when Casey, swelling with tears, gives Jordan a message to pass onto her mother, just in case she doesn’t make it.
Even better is that the characters do everything you would expect them to. Casey is asked to look for an emergency release lever, kick out the taillights and wave her arm around and even look around the trunk for objects that may help her. When she finds a paint can, she wisely opens it up and pours it out that now broken taillight in an attempt to provide a trail for police to follow. The only issue with these moments are the idiot civilians that try to help after seeing her in the trunk, but instead do everything they can to make the situation worse. Although necessary to keep the story moving, the decisions made by Jordan and Casey are so wise that it makes these moments somewhat frustrating.
But then it all goes downhill. Once Casey and her abductor make it to his hideout and the cops lose the trail, Jordan pulls that old action/thriller cliché and “takes matters into her own hands.” Without giving anything away, she becomes a better crime scene investigator than the actual crime scene investigators (at a place where, frankly, cops should have been posted anyway) and makes the boneheaded decision to follow the trail and attempt to rescue Casey herself rather than call the cops. Although meant to empower the character, help her overcome her fears and attain redemption, these plot turns take the film from something frightening and unique to silly and typical of your standard thriller.
This last act is so bad, it threatens to destroy everything that came before it, but to deny those early sequences their due would be foolish. “The Call” is half of a great movie and is enhanced by above average performances from a terrific ensemble cast. The villain, played by Michael Eklund, is truly wretched and only the most jaded of viewers won’t send their hearts out to Casey and Jordan. Because of this, “The Call” remains recommendable, but what could have been an enthusiastic recommendation instead becomes a passionless “meh.”