The Call 93291(SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen this movie, and you want to be surprised, you may not want to read any further.)

(Oh, what the hell.  Read it anyway.  If you can’t enjoy a movie even though you know a bit about it, then you really don’t belong in a movie theater to begin with.  Their business model is predicated on repeat viewings.)

The first thing you should know about the portrayal of 9-1-1 dispatchers in this movie is that it’s exactly spot on.  The movie makers could not have gotten it better if they were 9-1-1 dispatchers themselves, and writing a movie to show precisely what happens in the dispatch center.  From the spacious dispatch floor, the modern, well laid out and controlled computer equipment, to the big screen televisions and the comfortable “quiet room”, nobody should doubt how well 9-1-1 dispatchers have it at work.

The most important thing to remember,  however, is this:  If you piss off, or otherwise get a dispatcher wound up, we will hunt you down.  What ‘Jordan’ (Halle Berry) does to the protagonist (i.e. – the bad guy, AKA the perp, politely – the ‘suspect’) is nothing compared to what a *REAL* 9-1-1 dispatcher will do to you!

Believe me, it won’t be pretty.  We have DMV, NCIC, SRF, CII, FBI, INTERPOL, and Google at our fingertips, and between all of that and our perfect recall of past run ins with you, there’s no place on this planet (or nearby worlds or asteroids) where you can hide.  Get our dander up, and you’ll be begging for the CIA to drop you off at GITMO.

The bad guy in this movie messes with the wrong dispatcher twice in six months, and there’s hell to pay for that.  Believe me, Norman Bates has nothing on Jordan Turner, senior Dispatcher with the Los Angeles Police Department, once our killer gets her riled at him.  Hell hath no fury, and such.

Morris Chestnut

Morris Chestnut

The only bad thing in this movie?  Jordan’s hunky boyfriend cop (Morris Chestnut) is never given the chance to get his shirt off.  A missed opportunity of dramatic proportions.  The producers and director should hang their heads in shame at missing such a blatant pandering moment.  tsk tsk tsk

The romance between Jordan and Officer Phillips is true to life, as many dispatchers will tell you.  For some reason, dispatch centers are their own Peyton Places.  (Google it if you don’t get the reference)

(I’m still waiting for my torrid romance.  Apparently I’m not the male version of Halle Berry.  Or something.)

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Ok, ok.  Everything above is not true. Mostly not true.  Some parts are true.  Names have been changed to protect the guilty.  You know the drill.

Here are some (real) comments on the movie, The Call.

The dispatch center like you see in the movie is only available to larger departments.  The one in this film is modeled after Los Angeles Police Department’s center.  Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway), neither Visalia Police Deparment or the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department dispatch centers resemble anything close to the movie set.   Our centers are small, cramped, and stuffed into ‘fallout shelter’ basements.  We do have some similar computer setups, but we can’t pull up DMV pictures, nor do we have mapping software anywhere near as full featured.  We don’t have a “quiet room”.  Dispatch is not airy, and well lit.  (well, we don’t.  I haven’t been in Visalia PD’s center in a long time. And they’re getting a new one built soon, so theirs may eventually look like the one in the movie.)

Another nit to pick – nobody dispatches the way the character of Jordan did in this film.  You’re either on phones, or on the radio.  Rarely do you do both call take and dispatch at the same time.  Even if she was handling both,  the radio traffic, even for only this incident, would have been a much more prominent activity.  The correct portrayal would have been Jordan taking the 9-1-1 call, and another dispatcher handling the radio side of the incident.  They could have fudged the reality of a large department’s dispatch center, where the radio dispatchers are usually in a room separate from the phone operators, by having a radio dispatcher sitting close to Jordan’s phone station.  The only time you do both, as portrayed, is in one-dispatcher centers, or very unusual circumstances.  The goal is to keep the radio operators free to handle the radio.  Officer safety requires your attention be on them, not on the phone.

OK, cell phones.  They got that correct, amazingly!  The throw-away phones do not give us location information.  If you don’t know where you are, we won’t either.  Even GPS equipped phones are not 100% reliable, especially indoors.  Know where you are!

Trunk of the car.  I think it would be tougher to break out that taillight than they portray.  Especially for a panicked teenage girl.  Good thinking with the paint, though.

Some other things the movie got right:  The frustration of trying to track a cell phone is very real.  The pace of going from one call to the next is real.  The variety of call types presented to a 9-1-1 dispatcher is real.  The “don’t make promises” is 100% real.  The cost of making a mistake is real.   The annoying tendency to never find out how things end is presented as it truly occurs.  The first half of the movie is amazingly accurate.  There is, of course, dramatic license, but overall, the scenes in the 9-1-1 center are ones any dispatcher will recognize.  Right down to the steely-eyed supervisor, watching the floor from their station.

Overall, the first half of the movie was excellent.  Very fact based, and truthfully presented.  The movie skews into fantasy, however, in the final moments.  We really never would do what Jordan did, and if we did we’d probably get fired for it.  And really…  dropping your phone at a critical moment?  That’s just silly.  It’s a bit like dropping your phone into the toilet in your bathroom.  Like that ever happens.

So.  Overall, an excellent movie.  Three and a half to four stars, with a pandering but oddly satisfying ending.  Just don’t expect real 9-1-1 dispatchers to come save your ass if you get into a bind.  We’re still just going to send the cops, firemen, or paramedics.  You better hope that’s enough.

Make The Call – “9-1-1, what’s YOUR emergency?”