“The Caller” sets us up for something amazing: a detective film noir/drama/historical fiction/political thriller. In competent hands this combination of genres could create something unique and, well, thrilling. Unfortunately, however, there are a few slip ups, and we are left with something that almost gets there, but just doesn’t quite make it.
A nameless character played by Frank Langella is involved in a political scheme. He leads his company to believe that a third world country is ready for them to move in and take over economically, but then stabs them in the back by publishing their misdeeds in said country. He now knows there is a price on his head, and he seems to be at peace with the possibility of his death, but there are a few loose ends he has to tie up first.
Enter Elliott Gould, who plays the bumbling not-quite-Marlowe detective Langella secretly hires to watch his back. The most enjoyable part of the film is watching Gould struggle to put all the pieces together in a puzzle that seems eerily familiar to him.
Not quite the suave badass he was playing the original Marlowe in “The Long Goodnight,” Gould still lights up the screen with his mustached cuteness. Always just a little naïve, his detective character is approachable and believable. Not that his is the best performance in “The Caller.” Langella, hot off his Oscar-nominated performance in “Frost/Nixon,” is kinder here than in any other performance I’ve caught him in. Yet there is something harsh just behind his persistent stare. It creates a mysterious nice-old-man persona that is very watchable.
Its plot and performances make “The Caller” worth watching. And yet there are a few inconsistencies in the writing and style of the film that drag it down. The child characters are competent little actors, but writer-director Richard Ledes and co-writer Alain-Didier Weill do not seem to know how to write for children, but instead create characters that are just too precious, too precocious. Likewise, the love interest in the film comes out of left field in the middle of the story only to stagger around a plot that doesn’t need her. As a superfluous character, she takes the narrative in a stylistic direction that disappears almost as soon as it enters. In a film wanting to be taken seriously instead of as a pastiche, this kind of style-switching doesn’t work.
Ledes clearly knows how to work with character actors, and despite its small flaws, “The Calling” is a worthwhile endeavor. I look forward to going back and watching Ledes’ other film, “A Hole in One,” starring Michelle Williams and Meatloaf.