And speaking of films that surprised me, let's talk about the new kidnapping thriller THE CALL from one of my favorite directors, Brad Anderson (THE MACHINIST, HAPPY ACCIDENTS, SESSION 9 and many great episodes of "Fringe"), who has this remarkable ability to take a tried and true genre and extract some new life into it, whether it be horror, psychological dramas, science fiction, or in this case a serial killer story as seen through the eyes of 911 call center operator Jordan (Halle Berry).
What's remarkable about THE CALL is that it's essentially staged like a filmed play. On one side of the stage would be Berry, surrounded by computer screens on which she keeps notes, notifies police, sends message to co-workers. One the other side is Casey (Abigail Breslin), a young woman abducted by a proven murderer (Michael Eklund), whom Jordan has dealt with in an opening sequence in which the caller does not survive, partially because of a mistake on Jordan's part. So when Casey is taken, and Jordan realizes it's the same man, she refuses to let this one die.
Were it not for her remarkable turn in CLOUD ATLAS, this would be one of Berry's best performances in years. Her skill behind those screens as she plays part psychiatrist, part detective, part friend to Casey is impressive. She can't allow herself to get too emotional because that would upset the victim, so Berry is forced to dial it back most of the time but still convey intensity. She has a couple of nice scenes with her policeman boyfriend (Morris Chestnut), but Anderson wisely keeps the romantic distractions to a minimum. Chestnut manages to stay in the film (and be put to better use) by being one of the cops trying to find Casey.
The film makes what I think is a radically gross misstep in the final act as Berry leaves the call center to seek out Casey herself for ridiculous reasons. While the sequence has an ending I think audiences will probably enjoy (and one I didn't see coming), it breaks the purity of what makes the rest of the film so strong. I'm sure Berry and Anderson thought Jordan earned the right to make that step, but she doesn't. And while it doesn't ruin what is a fairly strong b-movie, it weakens it unnecessarily. Still, THE CALL has far more pluses than minuses when it comes to its tense pacing, the unbelievable claustrophobia in the trunk with Breslin, and a truly messed-up villain in Eklund. You can't win them all, but you can still win most. THE CALL is pretty good and for most of the right reasons.