Arthur, a middle-aged insurance man with an issue with commitment, drive back home one night from a date with his girlfriend Laurel. She wants him to meet her family, and he’s spooked by her request.
But when Arthur gets into an accident, he calls 411 for help from a dilapidated phone booth and talks to a frighteningly omniscient service on the other line.
This iteration of 411 knows everything about Arthur, from his current romantic situation to his high school memories. And it has surprising insight into Arthur’s current condition, giving him information — and help — in an unexpected way.
Writer-director Oliver Power, along with co-writer Rick Rosenberg — has created a short drama that begins with the dark ominous sheen and suspenseful buildup of a thriller, but it reveals itself to be a surprising drama of sly emotional intelligence and subtle humor.
The narrative toggles between Arthur’s recent evening with Laurel and his drive and accident. His scene with Laurel has a nice, easy rapport and affection, but actor Geoffrey Cantor also details Arthur’s underlying fear of commitment. He’s able to encapsulate a man who fears taking the next step, bringing a kind of remoteness to the characterization that hints at his aversion, but also his loneliness.
Sometimes juggling past and present in a short film can prove disorienting in a short running time, but the back-and-forth here builds suspense — along with the beautifully moody night-time cinematography and isolated visual compositions. It also creates some storytelling sleight-of-hand. Will Arthur meet a dark end and come to regret his last words with Laurel? It certainly may seem so.
But then the film takes a turn into magical realism, as the voice of 411 enters into the story. 411 isn’t just a recording, but a full-on character, brought to life by the superb F. Murray Abraham. Thanks to the Oscar winner’s mercurial talents (and excellent dialogue), 411 is both all-knowing, sarcastic, wise, darkly teasing and ominous — somewhere between an older father figure, a mysterious supernatural entity and God.
With 411’s help, Arthur begins to put together the former disconnected parts of himself, unearthing the source of his great pain and ambivalence. Over the course of this one fateful night, he finally owns up to his desires and summons up the courage to take a risk in life. Arthur’s ending ultimately makes “411” not just a beautifully crafted piece of genre filmmaking, but a parable for emotional growth: examining the past, connecting it to the present and being brave enough to move forward into an uncertain future.