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A Review of "The Call" (2013)

The Short Bit for People Who Hate Reading Reviews

This movie was pretty fun for the most part, even though it gets really dumb toward the end (the last few minutes especially).  Abigail Breslin does an amazing job as always and Halle Berry's alright, too.  It's a good Sunday afternoon thriller.  If you're looking for a more entertaining movie with a similar concept, though, I'd recommend Cellular instead.  (Same level of stupidity, but way better execution.)

My Rating:  3 / 5

The Bit Where I Complain About the Internet

Before I get into my review, I have to bitch about something.  I took a peek at the Wikipedia entry for the movie and I saw this garbage:

This... this is a joke, right?

What the fuck, Internet?  "A 911 operator talks to a kidnapping victim" is such a difficult a premise to follow that it you have to call it "high concept?"  What do you consider to be "low concept," then?  The victim just looks at the camera and goes, "OH NO THIS BAD I BEEN KIDNAP?"  Jesus Christ, this is one of the dumbest things I've ever read.  "High concept."  I'm going to have to drop this tangent before I have heart palpitations about how goddamn stupid movie reviewers have become.


The Bit Where I Summarize the Plot

The Call is a movie about a 911 operator who talks to a kidnapping victim.  Jordan (Halle Berry) is a 911 dispatcher with a troubled past.  In the film's prologue, she receives a call from a teenager who is being stalked.  Unfortunately, Jordan is unable to save her life - the girl is murdered by a shady Bad Guy and Jordan is forced to bear witness to her kidnapping via phone.

Months later, Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is out at the mall with a friend when another Bad Guy (Michael Eklund) shoves her into his trunk.  She dials 911 and, through happenstance, winds up on the line with Jordan.  Once again, Jordan is put in the unfortunate situation of having to listen to a young woman's abduction and murder.  But this time... she's going to fight back.

Much of the movie - the good parts of it - take place with Casey trapped in Bad Guy's trunk while Jordan tries to talk her through the experience.  They work together to get as much information as possible that they can then relay to the police, who begin an immediate manhunt.  This section of the movie is frequently tense and clever, with a lot of great back and forth between the villain and the heroes. It hits that sweet spot that you want in your thriller movies where it feels like you're watching a game between two champions: one makes a move and scores a point, but then the other comes right back and keeps it tied.

For example:  Jordan asks Casey to punch out a tail light.  She does, and waves a hand through the hole.  Another driver sees her hand and calls 911 to report the vehicle.  The dispatch center gets the call and figures out the car's location and license plate.  Power shifts to the good guys!  Oh, but wait - Bad Guy notices that another driver has seen him.  He gets off the freeway and they lose his location.  They run his plates... and it turns out he stole them.  It's as if they have to start over.  Power shifts to Bad Guy.

This section of the movie works because everybody is competent at what they're trying to do.  The cops are on the ball, Jordan is a quick thinker, Casey is able to focus on Jordan's instructions, and Bad Guy is an evil genius.  It's a great interplay.

But then the Act III turn happens and everybody kinda becomes stupid.  In fairly rapid succession, you have the following contrivances:

1) Jordan finds out that Bad Guy is the same Bad Guy from the beginning of the movie.  (Because there's only one guy in Los Angeles that could possibly be kidnapping teenage girls.)

2) Bad Guy takes Casey to his Torture Lair where we find out he's actually a psychopathic serial killer.

3) The cops actually find the Torture Lair, but because they decided to give up on police work for the day, they fail to find the hatch that leads into the basement where Casey is being held.

4) On top of that, the cops decide that even though they've made a break in the case and know Bad Guy's identity and the address of his Torture Lair, their time is better served by setting up a roadblock somewhere instead of asking a couple of rookies to stand guard.

5) Jordan decides that, even though she's not a cop, she can do good work in the field, so she abandons the dispatch center to go visit the cop-less Torture Lair and look for clues on her own.

Then the movie becomes basically a horror movie for 20 minutes before it ends.

About that ending...

The Bit Where I Discuss the Ending

Here's the deal.  The last half hour or so has problems, but it's all within a certain realm of flexibility.  Unbelievable coincidences?  Poor decision-making?  They come with the territory. Complaining about that kind of stuff is like being upset when people die in a horror movie.  What were you expecting?

So even though I think it's kind of fun to complain about silly things in a movie like this, I still felt like it was a fun movie and overall a good watch, probably a 4 out of 5... until the final "twist" comes up and turns it all to garbage.

The main reason I wanted to write a review about this movie was to discuss / complain about the ending.  So if you haven't seen it and you're worried about spoilers, don't scroll past whatever arbitrary screencap I've posted below this paragraph.  But I will say this: when you see a ladder break, turn off the movie.  That'll be a more satisfying ending than watching the remaining 2 minutes.

So.  You have this horror movie denouement where Jordan goes into Bad Guy's dungeon and rescues Casey.  They both climb out of the dungeon into a field.  Bad Guy is knocked out and they look down at his comatose body.  It's that moment where you go, "Whew... they're safe.  Time to go home."

But then Casey has an idea.  Instead of putting Bad Guy in jail, why don't they... pretend Casey escaped on her own, then chain Bad Guy up to a chair in his dungeon and leave him to die of starvation?  That way Halle Berry can say a badass line to the camera and the movie can end with a guitar riff or something.

This ending is shitty for a lot of reasons.  First of all, it's impractical.  Even if you want to end your movie with Bad Guy dying, how do you know he'll die if you just leave him chained up?  It's like when a villain just assumes that James Bond won't be able to escape his prison cell, so he doesn't bother to put any guards on him.  Bad Guy was literally just attacking you like some kind of unstoppable death machine, impervious to every move you made.  Don't you think he might find a way out?  You're just begging for him to break free and murder your family, dumbass.  If you're going to kill somebody, then kill them.  Don't be a pussy about it.

Secondly, it's too jarring a shift in personality for both Jordan and Casey.  Casey starts off the movie as being such a goody-two-shoes that she won't even say "fuck."  And now she's willing to commit homicide?  I get that she's had a bad day, but that's like somebody waking up at 7:00 in the morning as a vegan and then by ten o'clock that night they've eaten the heart out of a still-living cow.  And Jordan is supposed to be this frail woman who was rattled so hard by her last run-in with Bad Guy that she couldn't work as an operator for months.  Was whacking him on the head so empowering that she's now able to commit a heinous crime without hesitation?

Thirdly, how the hell are they going to explain away the crime scene if or when the cops ever do uncover Bad Guy's lair?  There's all kinds of evidence down there tying them to his (attempted) murder.  It's not like they took him out to some other lair.  Killing him in his own dungeon is kind of like stealing from a bank vault, walking out the back door, then walking in the front door and asking if they can set up a new account with the moneybag you just stole.

But more importantly than all that... these few moments contradict whatever thematic framework the movie might have been trying to set up.  Early on in the movie, Jordan is training a group of future dispatchers - a terrible scene where a guy named Josh keeps asking the stupidest questions imaginable just so the movie can have Halle Berry explain everything to the dumber parts of the audience - and somebody asks, "What's the worst part of the job?"

The answer (paraphrased):  "The uncertainty.  You don't know if the cops ever catch the bad guys."

(To be fair, the person saying this is not Jordan, but her reaction and behavior suggests that she completely agrees.)

So, given that all of Jordan's psychological trauma comes from the uncertainty over whether or not Bad Guy will be stopped, how does chaining him up in a basement satisfy anyone?

The cops don't know that he's down there (yet), so they'll keep wasting time and money looking.  And since they can't confirm that he was responsible for his other victims - we see remnants of at least half a dozen other girls - that means there are at least six cold cases on the books involving the abduction of various other teenage girls.  That's six families who will live the rest of their lives never knowing for sure what happened, why, or who was responsible.  That's the potential for six or more other people being falsely blamed and arrested for those six missing girls, which could possibly lead to six faulty convictions and six more innocent lives ruined by shitty police work.  (And let's face it; if the cops are so quick to abandon Bad Guy's lair in the third act, what are the chances they would reconsider the evidence in a case against some random dude who matches their profile?)

Basically, by locking up this asshat and walking away, they're pretending to have fixed everything when in reality they've just opened the floodgates for a massive shit storm.  It would probably do less harm to society if they just let him walk away.

My wife said it best when the credits came up: "Where's the justice in that?"