23 September 2013

THE CALL- Review

Not so long ago, it wouldn't have been completely out of the question to want Halle Berry to simply go away. Since her Oscar win for Monster's Ball, she's starred in a veritable poo-poo platter of cinematic dirge, from the execrable Catwoman to this year's downright shitty Movie 43. Following after Cloud Atlas, (a film in which it was impossible to avoid acting versatility) is The Call, which is clearly the best star vehicle ever concocted for the actress.

Berry plays Jordan Turner, a 911 call centre operator whose has her confidence shaken by a traumatic call, which ends in her hearing the murder of a young girl over the phone. It's not entirely irrational that she blames herself for the incident, but it's six months later, when she's demoted herself to inducting new staff, that she gets a chance to redeem herself. A teenage girl, Casey, is abducted from a shopping mall, and Jordan ends up on the receiving end of her emergency call. The personal stakes only escalate higher, when Jordan realises that she may have encountered the kidnapper before.

I would struggle to say that The Call is a good film, but the really endearing quality about it is how many times it screws up and yet still won me back over. It's pretty unpredictable too- not in a crazy "throw everything at the wall" kind of way, but with a number of little unexpected kinks every now and again, including a third-act somersault into a whole other genre, from suspense thriller to exploitation horror. This would be the point where a lesser film would completely lose its shit, but by having quite a slack grip on its shit throughout, it just about holds on.

After watching, I first thought that I might have enjoyed the film more as a result of diminished expectation, but the film holds up for all of the same reasons why I enjoyed it while I watched. I didn't take it entirely seriously for the most part, but all of the more emotional and intense beats hit the spot very well indeed. There's little question that it's a B-movie script with Oscar-calibre actors in the lead, but it also has Brad Anderson, director of The Machinist, elevating things behind the camera.

Halle Berry has seldom been better than she is here, with the establishing beats showing how operators are required to deal with potentially serious crimes and violence over the phone, with emotional detachment and professionalism. She has some great scenes playing off of Abigail Breslin, despite rarely sharing the screen at the same time. Breslin has grown up a lot since her cute turns in Little Miss Sunshine and Zombieland, and a solid turn here seems like as good a watershed as any for her career as a child star.

Once again, I'm not glossing over some of the sillier aspects of the film. Sometimes it works out, Jordan's self-doubt is all the more powerful because it comes out of what should be a really obvious mistake- redialling on a caller who gets disconnected while trying to keep quiet and hide from an intruder. It seems like an even more serious lapse in judgement, but that's not to say it wouldn't happen. I was less convinced by the pool of interns who ask obvious questions on their first day, just for the sake of exposition, or by the cops who go looking for Casey and wind up pulling a gun on a terrified family at one point.

The Call is a pot-boiler thriller that is considerably enlivened by the strong calibre of the leads and the director, and by a refreshing tendency towards weirdness. Admittedly, it strays from the central idea of Jordan having to help Casey using only the phone, once it shifts genres, but it also levels up rather than winding down. It's so short and sharp as to seem perfunctory, and while it will probably be better viewed at home than on the big screen, it's a surprisingly enjoyable watch.

The Call is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Call, why not share your comments below? I don't take any pleasure in saying this, but a lot of people think Halle Berry's hair looks like a photograph of an explosion in this one.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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