The Call starring Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin tells the story of a 911 operator who tries to save the life of an abducted teenage girl from a serial killer. Does this film do justice to the men and women in public service or should this emergency call be disconnected?
Every day, thousands of 911 calls are made to operators and dispatchers across the country. Jordan Turner of the LAPD 911 Communications Center is a veteran call taker who knows how to handle all the situations she comes across. Whether it’s the regular crazy guys who call 911 just to talk or people in car accidents, Jordan knows how to be cool, calm and collective without emotional attachments to the callers. On a normal night of phone traffic, Jordan gets a call that changes her professional life forever. A young women calls 911 to report a break in. She is alone and scared. Jordan does everything properly to calm her and get her to hide in her house until police can arrive. Everything is going fine, but then the line disconnects. On instinct and routine, Jordan hits redial to reestablish communication with the victim, but it in turn alerts the burglar that someone is in the house. The next moments of the call will haunt Jordan forever as she hears the woman’s screams for help. The burglar picks up the phone and Jordan pleads with the man to leave the woman alone. The man tells her, “It’s already done” and the line disconnects. Jordan is devastated and feels responsible. The next day at work while Jordan is taking calls, a breaking news story comes across one of the big monitors. The girl was found naked and dead in a shallow grave, thus begins Jordan’s downward spiral of guilt.
Six months later, Jordan has found a new position with the LAPD. She is now in the Training Unit teaching new recruits. As she is giving her trainees a tour of the call floor known as “the Hive,” a rookie operator answers a call that is so traumatic that she freezes up. Jordan takes charge and picks up a headset to assist. A teenager girl was kidnapped from a local mall. She is locked in a trunk of a car that she thinks is on the highway. Jordan freezes up, but after the girl pleads with her for help, Jordan lets her instinct and improvisational skills kick back into gear. After a series of events, she hears the abductor interact with the girl on phone. Her heart drops when she realizes that the man is the same one who killed the woman that still haunts her. Can Jordan recover from her crippling guilt long enough to locate the teenager in the car before the mystery man kills again?
For those who know me in real life, I work professionally as a police radio dispatcher and 911 operator for a major Midwestern city. I work on Geekenstein reviewing movies because I’m a big movie dork and because it’s a stress reliever for the job that I have. There are many movies like End of Watch that tell the stories of the men and women in blue, but as a 911 operator, we are often overlooked as a part of response team. Normally the only time a dispatcher is showcased is when it’s someone calling 911 because McDonald’s didn’t put cheese on someone’s burger or when a horrible incident hits national news and people want to play Monday morning quarterback on how they would have handled the call. I went into the movie with a lot of reservations and a unique perspective of the inner workings of first response compared to a regular civilian audience member. I must say The Call is a pretty accurate representation of the men and women who take emergency calls. It was an honest and respectful interpretation of the job that many people would never be able to handle. The only major flaw the film had was with its ending. The movie takes a complete 180 degree turn and turns from a thriller into a cheap horror movie with theater goers yelling at the screen to run or scold at the characters for the dumb mistakes they make.
Halle Berry plays veteran 911 operator, Jordan Turner. I really have to commend her for her performance. I could instantly tell that she spent some time in a call center to research her role. She had all the police jargon locked in. She had the posture and mannerisms of a dispatcher. She did such a great job that I instantly was able to relate a couple of my coworkers to her. Her performance isn’t Oscar worthy, but let’s face it, this movie isn’t Oscar bait. This is a thrill ride of emotions and edge of your seat nervousness. You become what Jordan Turner tells her students not to be: emotionally attached. You want Jordan to succeed in saving the girl. The heart of a dispatcher is not made of stone, though some of my coworkers would disagree. We try our hardest not to cry or let an incident break us down. This was also a factor I appreciated with Berry’s performance. She was scared of the unknown, but she handled the situation to the best of her abilities. There were times I would mouth the questions Jordan should be asking to her victim. When she did, I knew the filmmakers got it right.
Playing the abducted teenager is Little Miss Sunshine all grown up, Abigail Breslin. She was almost unrecognizable as a blonde compared to earlier roles in movies like Zombieland. She no longer is an awkward child. She has grown into a beautiful young woman. As someone who directly talks to victims on 911 calls, I thought Breslin did a great job as a young woman in distress. Sometimes she was hysterical. Sometimes she was calm. But the key thing is that she listened to Jordan’s instructions. Sometimes the key is to distract someone from the crisis in order to save them. For people who think they would be in charge if a situation every happened to them, I will tell you that people crumble and real emotions come out the second they dial those three digits on their phone.
The rest of the cast was filled with typical policemen, coworkers, and of course the serial killer. Morris Chestnut and David Otunga play officers Paul Phillips and Jake Devans. Chestnut was Berry’s policeman boyfriend that I see at my office all the time. Many dispatchers date policemen for many reasons I won’t divulge, but the relationship between the two was very realistic. Some officers like having a spouse or girlfriend as a dispatcher, because as the first line of defense, they like a trusting voice over the radio. I felt that Berry and Chestnut pulled off their professional and personal relationship on screen quite well. Otunga was good as Chestnut’s squad car partner. The main bad guy in film is Michael Eklund as the serial killer. I won’t spoil why he abducts and kills young women, but it borderlines Wild Bill from The Silence of the Lambs or real life Jeffrey Dahmer. He is a crazy man that is hell bent on his mission. Eklund’s character may not become an iconic killer in cinema lore, but he was pretty good playing the part.
What I and others had a problem with The Call was the crazy ending. The last twenty or so minutes is a bit ludicrous that it had the same audience reaction of a Freddy Krueger or Jason movie. People started yelling at the screen at the dumb decisions Halle Berry’s character was making. While I too thought it was slightly ridiculous, I understood that the film was trying to make the 911 operator the hero. It would have been too easy for her to just call back up, but then she wouldn’t have been the hero.
Then other thing I can fault the movie on is what I don’t think is the movie’s fault at all. That fault is the use the the amazing high tech equipment Jordan and her fellow dispatchers use. Now while high tech equipment is available in some cities, it’s not available everywhere, especially in small towns with little to no budgets. As I was watching the film, I was amazed how cool the CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system was used. Now why I say this is a fault, is that it gives the typical citizen a false hope at the capabilities of what exactly a 911 operator/dispatcher can do. It’s the same mentality the the general public thinks the police can do because they watch TV shows like NCIS or CSI. What I can say to people who watch this film and think we automatically have information is to just be calm and answer the call takers questions to the best of your ability. Arguing with a 911 operator about your address or phone number only delays the police.
I really enjoyed The Call despite the goofy ending. I felt Halle Berry, her onscreen coworkers and supervisors did a great job representing the men and women who are the first people victims call for help. Just like policemen who go an entire career without pulling their firearm, some dispatchers never take a kidnapping, so The Call does have elements of Hollywood showmanship. If you like serial killer thrillers or want to know what it’s like to be a 911 operator and dispatcher, I highly recommend checking out The Call. Hopefully civilians walk away with a little more respect for the people who anonymously save lives.
In Theaters: March 15, 2013
Rating: R (for violence, disturbing content and some language)
Director: Brad Anderson
Cast: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, David Otunga and Michael Imperioli
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Official Site: http://www.Call-Movie.com/