2013, Directed by Brad Anderson, written by Richard D’Ovidio, starring Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin
Third Act Syndrome. I’m starting to wonder wonder whether there’s been some kind of contagious outbreak in old Tinseltown that’s in desperate need of medical attention, such is the number of current Hollywood screenwriters managing to undo all the good work of the first hour with a dodgy final thirty. The Call suffers from one of the most viscous cases of Third Act Syndrome documented thus far, introducing a twist that trivialises the film and beggars belief.I’m not going to enter into the realm of spoilers, but you’ll know it when it happens. The films’ ‘twist’ is entirely unnecessary, creating questions that didn’t need asking. It’s not even original, either; those familiar with either the works of Hitchcock or the entire history of the suspense genre he helped define will’ve seen it all before. It’s a shame, too, because, while not quite Hitchcockian, the film had delivered suspense by the bucketload and created an atmosphere so tense it would even petrify a bucket of coleslaw.
A lot of this is down to the excellent direction of Brad Anderson. He moves things along at a breakneck pace, yet keeps us grounded. The set-up sees a 911 operator (Played by Halle Berry) answering a call from the girl from Little Miss Sunshine (Abigail Breslin), who is locked in the boot of an abductor’s car. Between them, they must work out where the car is and how to alert those nearby to the kidnap in progress. It’s an original idea that works really well. You root for Berry and Breslin, and genuinely want Michael Eklund’s captor character to be rumbled. This lasts about an hour, and yet isn’t tiresome at all. It’s edge-of-the-seat stuff as Berry’s character tries to riddle them out in increasingly smart ways. Both female leads deliver very decent performances. Berry adds a real intensity to a role that is 80% sitting in a chair and Breslin is far better at crying in every scene than Vanessa Hudgens was in this years’ Nic Cage-’em-up The Frozen Ground. Police chief Marcus from Kick Ass and deranged kidnapper Eklund also avoid phoning it in (Sorry), giving similarly solid performances.
Perhaps it’s this strong first hour that makes the final third feel so gratuitous. Without dipping into spoilers, Berry’s role increases as she gets out of that chair, and the audiences’ belief in a scenario that was, up until this point, well set-up suddenly begins to wafer. Even if the ‘twist’ didn’t happen, the need for Berry to get some action would be potentially film-breaking. Oh, and then there’s that ending. Umm. Yeah. OK. You do that, Halle. Nobody’ll question it. It’s totally in character. You too, Abi, totally in character. I could definitely see the people you were playing in the first half going through the exact thought processes you do at the end. 100% believable.
Credit must go to the film though for not slapping answers in the audiences face, even if the clues are pretty hard-laid. Anderson’s given this his best shot, and generally made the most of what should be a very common-issue thriller. In the end, it still feels that way, but if only some bold doctor had worked out a cure for Third Act Syndrome before the films’ release, that might not have had to be the case…
6 faulty taillights out of 10