911 operators are life-savers. But what does it take to endure that job? How many medical emergencies — heart attacks, strokes, stabbings, gunshot wounds — before you, counsellor and lifeline to the distressed, would start coming apart?
The Call is like a case study in film of one 911 operator’s experience. Her name is Jordan. She’s well-meaning, but no matter how sincerely Jordan tries, at times she fails at her job.
Jordan, capably played by Halle Berry, is clever and an adept listener — a key skill in her profession — but Jordan struggles to follow other protocols meant to limit emotional involvement in her work. Each failure affects her hard, and showcases moments of intense internal conflict. Capitalizing on that intensity, perhaps Jordan’s life could’ve been expanded beyond a humdrum romance with the handsome officer Paul Phillips (Morris Chestnut), and the so-so camaraderie with her co-workers. A more fascinating Jordan would also have saved us some less valuable cop drama scenes.
To the writer(s)/director’s credit, however, the audience is expected to do some work divining the criminal’s motives throughout the film. At first this criminal (Michael Eklund) is a mystery man, so we, like the emergency workers in search of him, must assess his behaviour (often in response to his own errors), along with other tidbits, to profile and stop him harming young girls. He’s confident and determined, but missing a few screws, as is typical for his character type. Understanding him in each case is vital to saving the victim, but also revs up a slow chase that otherwise leaves both the audience and Jordan powerless to save callers such as Casey Welson.
The kidnapped teen, Casey, is convincingly played by Abigail Breslin in early scenes where she recognizes the difficulty she’s in and her leading role in saving herself. She’s clever enough to fight and exact revenge when possible. Unfortunately, in her later scenes she is unlucky with the make-up, or camera angles (whichever is to blame) and the scripted implausibility of some of her antics.
The dependency between Casey and Jordan helps make The Call, two-thirds captivating. And although the other third is puzzling, they’re not to blame. The film manages to instruct and entertain (even without much pyrotechnics and gore) till near the end where, of all routes, the most incredulous one is chosen. So an audience prepared for realism — even if it’s a Hollywood ending — gets something out of keeping with the practical tone the movie maintained up to that point. As a result, some couldn’t help snickering at the screen.
Maybe television crime dramas like Criminal Minds condition us to expect serious, not necessarily happy endings, so anything but that in a drama seems ridiculous, and insulting. In any case, Elkhund’s character would say, “It’s already done.”