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Monday, October 7, 2013

The Call

Wait, a good Halle Berry movie? Whodathunkit?

Also at Channel 24

What it's about

After failing to save a young girl from a murderous home invader, 911 operator Jordan Turner's (Halle Berry) confidence in her job is badly shaken but when teenager Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is kidnapped and locked in the boot of her kidnappers car with her cell phone as her only means of escape, Jordan is soon forced to face her own demons and ensure that that tragic night does not repeat itself.

What we thought

The Call is a refreshingly terse, stripped down thriller that would easily be one of the best films of its kind to come along in a long, long time had it stayed its course all the way through. As it is, it's still a pretty damn excellent exercise in suspense for its first two acts, before turning into a ridiculously ill-fitting, narratively confused slasher flick for its closing half hour. Admittedly, the final act is still really good fun and it concludes with an utterly demented coup de grace from a lead character who apparently had a total personality transplant while the rest of us weren't looking, but it is such a strange departure from the rest of the film that you're as likely to leave the cinema in a state of bewilderment as you are to leave truly satisfied with what you've just seen.

That's the the film's final impression, though: there's still a couple of hours of goodness (and lunacy) to deal with first. For a start, fittingly enough, the film sets its own tone straights off the bat as it begins by thrusting the audience almost immediately into the middle of this horrifically tense home invasion. It's a brilliant opener that also quickly establishes all we really need to know about the surprisingly (this is a daft thriller after all) well drawn woman at the centre of the film.

Indeed, and there's no getting past it, despite being about as character-driven as this sort of suspenseful thrill ride usually is, Halle Berry gives her best performance in her best role to come along in a very, very long time. Berry is, to my mind at least, one of the least reliable Oscar winners, so it's particularly pleasantly surprising to see her suddenly turning in a performance of this quality again.

Anyway, with the suspense-filled opener out of the way, the film takes a few minutes to breathe as we see Jordan come to terms with what happens and we are quickly introduced to Casey, a decidedly unremarkable teenager, before she is kidnapped and that opening scene quickly ends up looking like a quick teaser for the main meal of the film.

Considering that this second and longest act takes place almost entirely between a cramped call centre and an infinitely more cramped car boot, it's astounding how thoroughly and remorselessly engrossing an hour in ends up being. There may be plenty to nit pick about here, especially in some of the rather strange actions of the film's villain and the sheer amount of coincidences and contrivances that the plot goes through, but everything about this part of the film is as nail-bitingly suspenseful as you could possibly want it to be.

And then, quite suddenly, we find ourselves in that controversial third and final act and, while much of the building suspense remains, albeit in smaller portions, the relative seriousness and grounded grittiness of what came before gives way to something far dumber and far less impressive. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed these final moments, certainly more than most seem to, but it's a befuddling end that turns the film's characters and its tone upside down to no real effect.

For all of its faults though (and there aren't that many – take that 3 star rating with an extra half-star on the side), The Call is a must-see for fans of both simple thrillers and Halle Berry and a perfectly decent night out for everyone else.

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