Here’s a tense single-location thriller directed by Antoine Fuqua, based on the time-honoured premise of a 911 emergency operator taking a nail-biting call from a female kidnap victim who is pretending to her abductor that she is speaking to her infant daughter, and having to fend for herself. (The Call, featuring Halle Berry as the operator in Brad Anderson’s 2013 film, has a similar concept.)
Joe Baylor, portrayed by a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal, is a troubled LAPD cop with a broken marriage and deteriorating health; he has apparently gotten himself into severe difficulty at work – and continues receiving calls from the press. While his case is being examined, Joe has been demoted to the humiliatingly menial position of emergency operator with a headset phone, receiving 911 calls from the general public, the overwhelming majority of which are farcically insignificant. Meanwhile, the California wildfires are generating a constant state of emergency.
Then, despite his personal difficulties, Joe is thrilled to accept a sobbing phone from a frightened lady, and his police acumen steps in – he deftly deduces precisely what the scenario is and how he can figure out what’s going on from just a few clues. And the similarities with Joe’s own tumultuous family situation indicate that personal atonement is attainable, and that Joe should make a frantic effort to manage and fix the whole issue over the phone. He grows more disrespectful and irrational, remaining on the job after his shift has ended and disregarding all other 911 calls.
The dramatic impact of the closeup on the officer’s sweating face and the faraway voice on the other end of the line starts to fade with time, so Gyllenhaal needs to lose it more extravagantly with screaming, temper-loss, and confessional anguish. However, as time passes, it seems that the scenario – as well as the issue of who the title alludes to – is more complex than Joe anticipated.
There is some huge closeup acting from Gyllenhaal to compensate for the absence of traditionally opened-out dramatic action, but it’s a well-made and entertaining image of a guy in the secular confessional box, a sinner forced to take the position of a priest.
Thanks to Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.