The New York Times | Movie Review| The Caller (2008)
Awaiting Payback for Blowing the Whistle
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: February 13, 2009
In “The Caller,” a corporate crime drama that runs fatally amok, Frank Langella plays Jimmy Stevens, a world-weary senior executive and numbers cruncher who blows the whistle on his company’s fiscal corruption and then waits for the lethal consequences. The EN Corporation, the evil energy enterprise for which he works, has conducted dirty business in Latin America that has involved the killing of protesters. In its pure malevolence it resembles Ultima National Resources, the environmental octopus poisoning West Virginia in this season’s “Damages.”
Describing his responsibilities, Jimmy says, “They wanted me to make it all up, and they didn’t want to know that I was making it all up.” Those words might also describe the role of William Hurt’s energy consultant in “Damages,” not to mention the origins of our present-day banking crisis.
In his stoic acceptance of his imminent assassination Jimmy resembles Mr. Langella’s character Leonard Schiller, the once-eminent novelist in “Starting Out in the Evening” who continues to write despite deteriorating health and his knowledge that his time has passed.
Whether playing Jimmy or Schiller or Richard M. Nixon in “Frost/Nixon,” Mr. Langella projects the tragic self-knowledge of an older man reassessing his life more acutely than any other actor today. As these characters contemplate the void, every ounce of personal experience weighs heavily on their hunched shoulders and adds an extra bass note to their sad, rumbling voices.
Not content to be a corporate thriller, “The Caller,” directed by Richard Ledes from a screenplay he wrote based on a story by Alain Didier-Weill, a French psychoanalyst and author, aspires to be an existential puzzle with all the heavy baggage that implies. As actions are replaced by portentous, disconnected symbols and new characters are belatedly shoehorned into the story, the sins of EN are forgotten and the film turns into an impenetrable essay on guilt, memory and the fear of death that even Mr. Langella’s gravity cannot salvage.
To ensure he has someone at his side in his final moments, Jimmy, disguising his voice and calling himself John Doe, hires the retired New York police detective Frank Turlotte (Elliott Gould) to follow him during his last two weeks. Frank, unaware that the man who hired him and the man he is following are the same person, develops an uneasy friendship with Jimmy that culminates in a final rendezvous in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Talk about heavy-handed symbols: in one scene where they share a park bench, both happen to be carrying copies of the same book, Frances A. Yates’s “Art of Memory.”
Mr. Gould’s eccentric gumshoe, who suggests a more decrepit version of his shambling Philip Marlowe in “The Long Goodbye,” is an avid bird watcher. And the movie is punctuated with loaded images of Frank’s latest avian obsession, the peregrine falcon, swooping through the Manhattan sky.
The third element of the story, woven sporadically (and enigmatically) throughout “The Caller,” involves Jimmy’s traumatic childhood in France during World War II when he and another boy found themselves alone in the Normandy woods ministering to a dying soldier. Back in the present Jimmy visits his ailing mother at an assisted-living center. Midway through the movie we are suddenly introduced to Jimmy’s girlfriend Eileen (Laura Harring), a morose nightclub singer with a precociously curious young daughter (Anabel Sosa).
The extent to which “The Caller” has lost its bearings becomes painfully obvious late in the film when recurrent shots of the Statue of Liberty (of all hackneyed images) are used to connect the French flashbacks with American present. Did I say “The Caller” is pretentious?
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Directed by Richard Ledes; written by Mr. Ledes, based on a story by Alain Didier-Weill; director of photography, Stephen Kazmierski; produced by Linda Moran and Rene Bastian; released by Belladonna Productions. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. This film is not rated.