Review: ‘The Caller’

"The Caller" follows a corporate exec who, having blown the whistle on the deadly practices of his company, stage-manages his own inevitable wipeout.

An oddball Gotham cat-and-mouser that feels more like an apologia for egocentrism than a psychological thriller, “The Caller” follows a corporate exec who, having blown the whistle on the deadly practices of his company, stage-manages his own inevitable wipeout. Frank Langella’s note-perfect, tour-de-force turn as a man elegantly shaping his own demise is nicely counterpointed by a shambling Elliott Gould as a bird-watching private eye. The spectacle of these two old pros flaunting their oppositional thesping styles, combined with helmer Richard Ledes’ stylishly empty twists on neo-noir, may snag pic a limited run.

Jimmy Stevens (Langella) one day decides to release data revealing the corrupt and murderous dealings of the international energy conglomerate where he is a complicit VP. He then brokers further postmortem revelations against a two-week reprieve of his irreversible death sentence. Anonymously contacting ex-cop-turned-gumshoe Frank Turlotte (Gould, with a wonderfully creaky, arthritic gait), Jimmy hires him to follow “Jimmy Stevens” (i.e., himself), whom he claims to be an assassin on assignment.

Alternating watching/photographing birds with watching/photographing Jimmy, Frank tries to reconcile the information given him with what he is observing — a task made more difficult when he is unexpectedly encouraged to meet the subject of his surveillance.

Meanwhile, Jimmy continually experiences flashbacks to two boys (guess who) in Nazi-occupied France that will ultimately yield the reason for his curious behavior.

Basically, all roads lead back to Jimmy. Like Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin, he is both the instigator and the object of all regards. His interactions with others, duly noted and photographed by Frank, almost seem designed to establish his humanity in someone else’s eyes, and to deny the label of assassin he has placed upon himself.

Thus, he visits sometime g.f. Eileen (Laura Harring, looking more mature and less mysterious than in her “Mulholland Drive” incarnation), a ’40s-style chanteuse in an elegant retro nightclub, and mentors a precocious, class-challenged young girl, Lila (Anabel Sosa), creating a makeshift family — at least for the camera.

Pic is co-written by French psychoanalyst Alain Didier-Weill, and one wonders if the pic’s monstrously insular, self-reflective nature reps a psychiatrist’s view of the primacy of the ego, or if it’s meant to mirror the mindset of a contempo executive, self-serving even in self-sacrifice. Even Frank’s unassuming altruism is appropriated by Jimmy’s curtain-dropping finale.

Helmer and co-scripter Ledes clearly enjoys Gould and Langella’s benignly paranoid interactions. Ultimately, though, the director’s grandiose attempts to relate his characters to some larger context (in one shot, a damning photo released by Jimmy heroically flashes on the huge Times Square screen behind him) relegates “The Caller” to the status of an overblown vanity project.

Tech credits are pro.

The Caller

Production

A Chapeau Films presentation of a Belladonna production. Produced by Rene Bastian, Linda Moran, Richard Ledes. Co-producer, Ged Dickersin. Directed by Richard Ledes. Screenplay, Alain Didier-Weill, Ledes.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Stephen Kazmierski; editor, Madeleine Gavin; music, Robert Miler; music supervisor, Beth Amy Rosenblatt; production designer, Kelly McGehee; costume designer, Tere Duncan; sound, Paul Swan; supervising sound editor, Adam Folk; casting, Todd Thaler. Reviewed at Tribeca Cinemas, New York, April 20, 2008. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- Encounters.) Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Frank Langella, Elliott Gould, Laura Harring, Anabel Sosa, Helen Stenborg, Gregory Ellis, Axel Feldmann. (English, French dialogue)

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