The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Call

The Call is two-thirds terrific and one-third routine. Unfortunately, it's the final third that's routine. Even so, by that final act, I was willing to forgive the film, because it at least knows we want some hardcore catharsis and it gives us some. To be perfectly honest, when I first saw the trailer for The Call, I thought it looked dreadful. Admittedly, this is a B-movie through and through, yet an unrelenting pace and a general sense of plausibility (at least through the first hour) elevate it considerably.

Halle Berry plays Jordan Turner, a 911 operator in Los Angeles. One afternoon, she gets a call from a terrified teenager, Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), who has been kidnapped and shoved into the trunk of a car by a lunatic. Jordan offers advice on how to escape, but the psycho, Michael Foster (played by Michael Eklund), is determined to carry out his deeply disturbing plan. Anxiety builds in the 911 call center, as Jordan becomes emotionally invested in rescuing the poor girl from this increasingly dangerous situation.

The Call made me happy by daring to be practical. So many thrillers of this nature go over the top with outlandish scenarios, to a degree that it makes you emotionally disconnect. Not this one. Jordan gives Casey very practical suggestions on how to signal for help and how to escape from the car. That logical quality makes the plot incredibly suspenseful. I hate watching a thriller and thinking the characters are stupid. Jordan is most definitely smart, just as Casey is smart to trust her. In addition to good characterization, director Brad Anderson (Session 9) provides a rapid, breathless pace that starts as soon as the opening credits are over and never lets up. He also adds some very effective touches to accentuate the tension. Varying shutter speeds and occasional brief freeze frames help to convey terror, while the use of cameras that get right up into the faces of the actors facilitates our interest in following them.

Although Halle Berry is good as the tense, determined Jordan, The Call's MVP is Abigail Breslin. She convincingly conveys Casey's fear and panic every step of the way. And rather than simply being a helpless victim, she fights back, doing everything she can to escape. This leads to an especially tense scene at a gas station, where Casey makes a bold attempt to flee. Breslin does terrific, fierce work here. So why did the filmmakers force the 16-year-old actress to spend the last 30 minutes running around in just a bra? That little bit is kind of icky.

At a certain point in the story, Jordan comes out from behind her desk and gets directly involved in the hunt for the sicko. This is where The Call goes a bit off track. The last act of the movie takes a few pages from the Silence of the Lambs playbook, with a touch of Saw thrown in. You have to admire the way Foster's motive is alluded to rather than spelled out, but the events that take place feel manufactured, right down to the dank, grungy location in which they occur. If nothing else, you at least get an ending that provides a suitable release for all the tension that's been built up, which I guess counts for something.

While it may lose some of its effectiveness toward the end, The Call is, by and large, a very effective thriller. The goal of the picture is to keep you in suspense and to give you a few good jolts along the way. Mission accomplished.

( out of four)

The Call is rated R for violence, disturbing content and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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