A 911 dispatcher has to outwit a madman in The Call, a serviceable little thriller about a kidnapped girl and a race against time.
Halle Berry anchors the movie as Jordan Turner, a call centre employee who works the emergency phones and does her best to keep a cool head on the job. The movie opens with an adolescent girl calling 911 in terror as her house is broken into; Berry takes that call and makes an error that contributes to a tragedy.
The experience leaves her completely unnerved.
Six months go by. Jordan no longer handles 911 calls. She now instructs others in handling emergency phone calls, and that's how she happens to be on the front lines when another adolescent girl dials 911 in hysterics. We've already seen this girl (Abigail Breslin) get grabbed and chloroformed and stuffed into the trunk of a car, and now our 911 dispatcher must find a way to get the police to her, pronto.
As you'd expect, there are complications. As the kidnapping escalates, Jordan becomes convinced that the bad guy is the same man who terrorized another teenager on her watch.
The Call has more to offer than most films of the genre. Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist; Next Stop Wonderland) is careful to keep you on the edge of your seat during Abigail Breslin's kidnapping, and he builds tension carefully and steadily throughout the story -- working on viewer emotion while Breslin's character tries to flee or fight back. The camera is sometimes a voyeur, reflecting the villain's point of view and the way he gazes at his victim; violent acts are sometimes glimpsed rather than seen clearly, to great effect.
Berry's performance as a hard-working 911 operator is understated and believable. She's in good company with the talented Miss Breslin and with Canadian actor Michael Eklund, who is scary good in the role of the villain.
The Call works wonderfully for the first two acts. Then it goes off the rails and turns into a vigilante drama, but the end of the movie isn't enough to wipe out all the good material that came before it. Why the story goes from better-than-average to highly dubious at the end is anybody's guess.
Mind you, some people in the audience cheered the ending, so perhaps test screenings are the culprit. Again.
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