With the release of Taken 3 on January 8 and expert telecommunication fella, Bryan Mills back to take calls and bust heads, here’s a brief look back at some memorable moments over the phone in film. There’s everything from heated arguments to unnerving whispers down the phone but all of them are worth a watch. Stay on the line and have a look through them all and be sure to give your vote on a favourite or in the comments below.
Face-smashing, bullet-dispensing, danger magnet Bryan Mills is renowned for having a particular set of skills and one of the first we get a dose of is his ability to intimidate over the phone. Easily one of the best conversations ever to be caught across the wire, the call in Taken is built to brilliant effect firstly between father and daughter. Bryan doesn’t sugar coat it to his bubble-headed offspring, explaining from the off that she’s going to be taken and that she should do anything she can to try and help the situation. Their time on the line is cut short of course, but not before her captor takes the phone and has a word with our hero first.
The whole ‘I will look for you’ speech will always stand as one of Liam Neeson’s most memorable moments, mainly because at this point he wasn’t the neck-snapping special-agent we now know him as. Back then, we were simply seeing Oscar Schindler whisper some serious threats to a stranger that led you to believe every word he said. It’s intense and invigorating to see him set up his chance of becoming an iconic action hero that could stand toe-to-toe with the best and all it took was a single phone call.
There are a number of wonderfully cool moments in Michael Mann’s classic crime saga, but one scene that still sticks out is seeing Robert De Niro’s Neil give a call he wasn’t meant to. After escaping a double-cross the head heist man gives the guy who planned it a ring, sending a shiver down his spine in the process.
You can hear the rage is being kept at bay as De Niro’s cool caller leaves his business partner somewhat startled as to what’s happened, explaining to Van Sandt that he can keep the money. His confusion turns to fear though when he asks Neil what’s happening, allowing our anti-hero to have the last word and leave Van Zandt for death to come calling soon after.
Silence of the Lambs
Fans of Thomas Harris’ original book no doubt shook their heads (as any book fans do) as Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning thriller diverted from the original ending of Silence of the Lambs Even so, it can’t be ignored that Dr. Lecter’s brief phone call to Clarice still makes for a chilling close, and one that finds its place in film history’s memorable closing scenes.
After cracking the case of Buffalo Bill, Clarice Starling is sheepishly accepting praise for her work and the nightmarish ordeal she went through, only to be reminded that there’s still one nightmare on the loose. Among drinks and celebrations, Starling gets a surprising call from Hannibal the Cannibal, who warns her to keep her distance out of respect between the two. As with his entire Oscar-winning performance, there’s a perfect balance of charm and terror, ending the call on his plans for the future (“I’m having an old friend for dinner” - brilliant) and leaving Clarice lost on the line. The last thing we see is our heroine alone at the party and the true villain lost in the crowd, heading off for a well earned meal. Bon appetite.
There are two sides to every story, but in a particular scene in Uncle Buck, we only need to hear one - no matter how brief it may be. After getting a call in the middle of the night to do his brother a favour, Buck Russell has no choice but to break the bad news to his girlfriend that he can’t make it to work the next day as a result. What follows is probably one of the most believable phone calls ever caught on film and all of it is handled perfectly thanks to the comedic genius that is John Candy.
It’s moments like this that demonstrate just what sort of talent Candy had at his disposal, sounding completely natural and (to our knowledge at least) having only a phone to work with. It’s also a sad reminder of another great talent that made millions laugh and was taken too soon from us. Even if he’s gone this is a fine example that the laughs will be around forever.
Before she’s seen swinging from a tree looking a little worse for wear, Drew Barrymore gives one of the most petrified performances in horror film history in the opening of Scream. The story goes that the cause behind her tears and terror was down to director Wes Craven off camera telling her horror stories of animal cruelty. What she heard we’ll never know but it helped a great deal in amplifying what we heard between a girl and a mysterious caller; the meta-conversation about the genre it would become immortalised in.
Admit it, the first time you saw it the idea of Craven killing Gertie seemed pretty unthinkable. Yet there she was snivelling and screaming down the phone at the caller who had her life on the edge of a knife. In the most rare of occasions, a slasher film had given its villain a voice as well as a memorable mask to hide behind and what he said over the phone immediately grabbed your attention. Okay, the threat of that famous ghost face may have dwindled over the years (and probably even more so with a TV show on the way) but it was the voice we heard first and one that will still send shivers down the line no matter how many times that phone rings.
Hard to do a list of phone calls and not highlight one that lasted an entire film. As one man shows go, Colin Farrell stuck inside one of the last phone booths in New York made for an intense watch and was pretty entertaining when it arrived, it also set him on a pretty impressive career that continues to thrive. Good call, Mr. Farrell.
Turning up as the sleazy agent who was playing away with another woman, Farrell’s Stu Shepard spends the film trying to talk his way out of a life or death situation thanks to Kiefer Sutherland’s cold voiced caller. It might well have been seen as Farrell’s film at the time but in retrospect Sutherland does just as well hissing in our heroes ear. People might not visit phone booths as much as they used to nowadays but this one is certainly worth going back to.
The Bourne Supremacy
Even though he may have had some memory issues, Jason Bourne was still able to stay ahead of anyone that crossed him, and proved it in the closing moments of The Bourne Supremacy. After being hunted by another shady character from our amnesiac agents past, Bourne calls up the one person that he formed an unspoken alliance with; Pamela Landey who was closer to Bourne than she thought.
After the dust is settled and our hero has been left alone (for the time being) by the CIA, Bourne calls up Landey politely enquiring if he’s still being followed. Instead he gets a thank you and another missing piece to his mental puzzle. With a name and DOB (or is it?) Bourne ends the call in a way only he can, proving just how good he is at what he does heading off to hide in plain sight.
As scary as the call in Scream may have been, Bob Clark’s 1974 festive horror did just as well by spouting blood-curdling babble down the phone in Black Christmas. Lacking popularity upon its original release, the film gained a cult status over the years with one of its memorable scenes being a phone call that would leave anyone to hang up.
Even before the bodies start piling up (including the ones in the attic), the film brings in the tension thanks to the unknown killer and his terrifying phone calls to a sorority house that gives Olivia Hussey a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. There are no threats (not to begin with anyway), merely screams and wails down the phone of Billy and Agnes. Merry Christmas everyone.
From one lone caller carrying a film to another, Tom Hardy as the titular hero/villain and one-man show made for a brave feat and a truly enjoyable watch in Locke. Let’s face it, we’ve known for some time now that he was a brilliant actor but this demonstrated just how good.
In between his brief ‘conversations’ with his father in the back seat, Hardy displays every emotion he can muster as the building contractor whose world is set to crumble. Leaving from London to face the consequences of his actions, John Locke could lose everything the next time he gets out his car, and Hardy manages to keep you on the edge of the passengers seat the entire way. If he’s not trying to solve the earth-shattering problem of dodgy cement, he’s trying to deal with two women whose lives he’ll change forever. If there’s one film you shouldn’t have last year, it’s this one.