The Call ••Posted: March 17, 2013
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
Well, Greg, after seeing the bad guy in this film, it looks like Halle Berry has gone from Monster’s Ball to Monster’s Call.
Yeah, we don’t get to see just how monsterly the villain is until the end, but he definitely is carved from the same mold as Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, without the indigestion.
Enough about the villain for now. Let’s start with the hero, a woman named Jordan played by Halle Berry. How good a hero do we have here? Was Halle a Berry, Berry good hero or not?
Let’s find out…
The Call is an unusual movie in that the hero spends most of her time at a console talking to a victim. We meet Jordan (Halle Barry), a 911 call center operator. She’s competent and has a relationship with one of the cops in her district. Things are going pretty well for her when she gets a 911 call from a frightened young girl. Someone is trying to break into her house. Jordan gives the girl good advice on hiding from the perpetrator when they are suddenly cut off. Jordan calls the girl back and the ringing phone gives the girl away and she is abducted. Two days later the girl’s body is discovered buried in a field. Jordan is mortified by this experience and blames herself for an error in judgment. She loses her confidence and is reassigned to train new operators.
Six months later, Jordan is training a new group of operators on the 911 floor. A teen-age girl calls into the center reporting that she’s been abducted and is trapped in the trunk of a car. The inexperienced call operator is unable to handle the emergency and hands the controls to Jordan. Shaky, Jordon takes the call and instructs the girl to kick out the tail lights and wave her arms so someone will see her. This is the beginning of a long and suspenseful chase with Jordan telling the girl, Casey, (Abigail Breslin) to keep calm and help is on the way.
Redemption is a huge part of many hero stories, and here Jordan has an opportunity to redeem herself. Can she handle a call that is so eerily similar to the one she botched six months earlier? This is a crucial part of the hero story. And she’s clearly on her own here, as the villain easily evades the police and makes mince-meat of passing motorists & gas station attendants in his way.
Not necessarily on her own. At the beginning of the story she is trying to create a relationship with her boyfriend Officer Paul Phillips (Morris Chestnut) and she gets moral support from her close friend Flora (Denise Dowse). But her boss, Maddy (Roma Maffia), acts as the opposition trying to tell her to stand down and go home. By the end of the story Jordan truly goes solo as she ventures out of the 911 call center and faces the villain alone.
And here is where a good hero story does not necessarily equate to a good movie. In the real world, a 911 operator would go home at the end of her shift, and she’d allow other more qualified people hunt down the villain. But the writers of this movie decided that this would leave us very unsatisfied. Apparently we need heroes to complete the journey, however far-fetched it seems. I won’t go into any details about what transpires, but let’s just say that if all 911 operators were like Jordan, we wouldn’t need any law enforcement agencies.
It definitely stretches the bounds of credibility. I think the movie tries to pay homage to the unsung heroes who man the 911 “Hives” all over the nation. And to a great degree it does this for the first 75% of the story. There is a strong desire among movie-goers to see the hero attain the Main Goal without assistance. However, compare this movie to Zero Dark Thirty where Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a desk-bound CIA analyst. In the end, it was the Navy Seals Team 6 who confronted the villain and the hero merely identified the body – which was perfectly satisfactory. It can be done, but the writers of The Call didn’t have the finesse to pull it off. And it’s a pity because I think that would have been a more satisfying ending and a greater tribute to the 911 operators/heroes.
Totally agree. It’s almost as if the writers were trying too hard to make the hero heroic and the villain villainous. We haven’t discussed the bad guy yet. A good hero story truly needs a top-notch villain, and I’m not sure this dude fits the bill. His despicability is over the top. Not only has he killed multiple girls, but we learn that he’s been sexual with his cancer-ridden sister. That’s not only gross, it’s unnecessary. And, as we alluded to earlier, the ending scenes are too reminiscent of both Psycho and Silence of the Lambs.
I have to agree with you. Like the shark (Bruce) in Jaws, this villain was more of a prop than an actual character. He was so clearly evil that there was no dimension to him. He wasn’t particularly clever or daring. He was just overwhelmingly despicable. He could have been played by any actor. They say a hero is only as good as his villain, and with a boring villain, Halle Barry as Jordan has little to play against.
Likewise, the damsel in distress (Casey) has little to do but cry and scream. We get a little insight into her personality early in the film where she’s at the mall and refuses to use foul language (despite egging-on by her BFF). But other than that, any young blonde girl could have played the role. It’s a very bland film indeed.
I wouldn’t call it bland. It was a mixed bag. Halle Berry deserves props for her performance and for making us care about her character. But I’m glad you brought up the girl in distress. The final act of the film is a mess, with both the girl and Jordan pursuing a course of vengeance whose only purpose was to allow them to use the killer’s favorite line on him. Those two characters were totally out of character and left me wanting to throw popcorn at the big screen. Except that I had already eaten all my popcorn.
Yeah, it turned a good heroic chase movie into an exploitation/revenge plot. A very bad turn.
Scott, I really wanted to like this movie. I felt a certain amount of suspense at the beginning but the writers couldn’t sustain it for the whole film. The last 25% turned into a bad copy of Silence of the Lambs and I lost all respect. So I give the movie itself 2 Reels out of 5. I liked Halle Barry’s portrayal of Jordan as a smart, sensitive 911 operator. She did a good job of exhibiting a range of emotions playing against nothing more than an array of computer monitors. I give Jordan just 3 out of 5 Heroes, though, because there just wasn’t enough of what we expect from movie heroes.
Ugh. I hate agreeing with you Greg, I just hate it. But I concur that the movie deserves no more than 2 Reels out of 5. The hero’s ridiculous, out-of-character act of revenge at the end moved her from 4 Heroes down to 2. So two 2′s for me. Which is a shame, because as you note, if the writers hadn’t gotten lazy and derivative, this movie could have been quite good.