Film Review: The Call

Terrific craftsmanship and plenty of scares infuse this above-par programmer about an emergency call center operator’s determination to land a psychotic kidnapper who has absconded with his latest victim.

With her star turn in The Call, Halle Berry has stepped down from the interminable arty heights of Cloud Atlas to land assuredly on solid genre ground. Smartly produced, convincingly written and tight as duct tape across a victim’s mouth, The Call focuses on an L.A. emergency call center where one operator, feeling the need to prove herself, is determined to get her man, a serial murderer who has abducted his latest victim.

No envelopes pushed here, just an intelligent genre spin with plenty of emotional buttons that will keep audience hands gripping armrests. The R rating signals some de rigueur violence, but serves a taut story with unrelenting tension.

911 call center operator Jordan (Berry) is devastated by the outcome of a call she handled during a home invasion from Leah (Evie Louis Thompson), who subsequently became a murder victim. Jordan’s supervisor Maddy (Roma Maffia), reacting to the operator’s stress, suggests a break. Moved laterally in the unit as an instructor, Jordan, leading a group of newbies on a tour of the call center floor, notices that another emergency responder is having trouble with a call that has elements of the one that sidelined her. Jordan steps in, takes over, and we’re on our way.

Frantic on the other end of the line is Casey (Abigail Breslin), a Valley teen who had been trolling an L.A. mall with pal Autumn (Ella Rae Peck) before they went their own ways. Casey, as she frantically tells Jordan, was abducted in the parking garage of the mall and now lies sealed in the trunk of a moving car. She is speaking on the disposable cell-phone she pocketed after her friend accidentally left it behind.

Skilled at her job, Jordan calms the terrified woman and asks questions that might provide clues to the car and its whereabouts. Because Casey’s cell has no GPS, Jordan advises her to use the handyman tools and supplies in the trunk to punch out a back headlight and pour cans of paint through it.

The cops, including Jordan’s boyfriend Officer Phillips (Morris Chestnut) and his partner Officer Devans (David Otunga), begin to close in on Michael as a result of paint stains on the L.A. streets. But things take an unexpected turn when another car pulls up next to the car of the perp (Michael Eklund) to alert him to paint spilling from the trunk.

The Call roars on with chilling suspense and revelations about the kidnapper’s background and motives and Casey’s fate. And Jordan, leaving her skilled phone coaching behind, will make a daring decision that takes matters further, maybe or maybe not to expected closure.

Berry, Breslin and Eklund all beautifully handle their difficult roles. Scenes as macro as the vast 911 call center (known as “the “Hive”), with its many monitors large and small, or as micro as Casey’s confines in the car trunk, all resonate with authenticity and never get in the way of the galloping pace. The many L.A. exteriors and realistic interiors add to the rich cat-and-mouse canvas.

The Call is sometimes straightforward and familiar, but it effectively revs up audiences and gets them cheering for the good guys. And there’s that doozy of an ending, as satisfying as it is unexpected.