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There are a lot of pretentious movies out there. We sit through them, weekend after weekend, hoping to find that one snobby film that actually has a reason to be so irritating. The Caller is one of those, and the name of the reason is Frank Langella. If there were ever an actor to nail the intricacies of every role (and yes, that includes playing the Knicks’ owner in Eddie), it is Langella. Without his stark, bare performance, director Richard Ledes would have a definitive letdown on his resume.

Langella is Jimmy Stevens, an energy executive who blows the whistle on his company’s murderous practices in Latin America. Knowing that he will be bumped off in return, Jimmy anonymously hires a private detective, Frank Turlotte (Elliot Gould) to follow his every move. Turlotte is unaware that the man who is paying him and the man he is trailing are the same, and spends his time bumbling in confusion until his brain finally starts acting like it is capable of inductive reasoning. Now, I realize that without certain plot devices, a movie’s ending is compromised. But for goodness sake, the giant logic gap in this film is too preposterous to dismiss: Frank is made out to be a decent detective. But had he been at all qualified to be even a half-assed private eye, he would’ve started with a simple background check and the whole debacle would’ve been avoided. Instead, he questions some school kids and wonders why he isn’t getting anywhere. He’s like my grandpa who forced beef jerky down my throat and then wondered why I never wanted to give him a hug.

I spent the first half of this movie trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and the second half complaining that Gould’s character was cast wrong (granted, the character himself is dumber than crap). Either Gould is a worse actor than I thought, or he just pales in comparison to the presence of Langella. Either way, his performance was on par with that drama class you took in college for a general degree requirement.

That’s not to say that there aren’t redeeming qualities besides the top billing. The movie is nicely choreographed and manages to create an intimate feel while forcing the audience to reexamine childhood notions of redemption, being alone and our collective fear of dying. Flashbacks to Jimmy’s youth are mesmerizing and for once, the old standby of using flashbacks is justified.

The Caller does itself a disservice by marketing as a corporate thriller. It’s been done- and frankly, it’s not that exciting when we’re being bombarded by true stories of corporate corruption and greed every day. There are no “thrills” in this movie. No explosions, no car chases, no action sequences. Instead, it’s a slow crawl towards unraveling the secrets that are emerged in Jimmy’s wearied expression. An anti-dramatic build-up to an anti-climactic ending? For sure. But one that had me riveted nonetheless.

by Lisa Bahr

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