The 2018 Danish thriller The Guilty was riveting, ruthless material. This American remake, coming courtesy of director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer), is much of the same, which means those who have seen the original will find the plotting all too familiar, yet those uninitiated are likely to be wholly swept up in its minimalistic thrills and emotionally effective turns.
Even for those who have seen the original, this variation is worth a viewing if for nothing else other than Jake Gyllenhaal‘s central performance, the actor toeing the line of intensity as an LAPD 911 dispatch operator whose personal and professional unravellings intertwine over the course of a few hours. Taking place in almost real-time during the tail-end of his shift, Gyllenhaal’s Joe Baylor is serving his time on the phones following a demotion that will see him front up to court in the coming hours; Nic Pizzolatto‘s script gradually clueing us in over the film’s tight 90 minutes as to what has led to his downfall.
His mind evidently elsewhere and his superior (Christina Vidal Mitchell) on her last nerve, Joe’s volatility towards his co-workers and those he’s supposedly on the line to protect momentarily eases when he receives a call from a distressed woman (Riley Keough, submitting immense vocal work) who alludes to having been abducted by her husband (Peter Sarsgaard). The more Joe leans in, the more he uncovers about the anguish this woman is suffering through, and hoping to seek his own redemption through her being saved, Joe alternates between investigating their dynamic and dealing with an overwhelmed California Highway Patrol unit who are tending to the blazing fires sweeping the city.
Essentially a one-man show, The Guilty is entirely a showcase for the consistently underappreciated Gyllenhaal. The film’s mainstream-leaning temperament may not earn it any award recognition, but Gyllenhaal is so commanding, so intense, and so utterly focused that it would be a vast misjudgement to dismiss his performance. His wide eyes and the declaration of his face keep you utterly invested, so much so that you often forget that there are very few other people sharing the screen with him; in addition to Keough and Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Eli Goree and Paul Dano all lend their voices as various faceless characters that weave in and out of Joe’s orbit.
Fuqua and Pizzolatto have hardly reinvented the Danish film’s wheel here, but their commitment to executing the material with conviction is certainly enough to forgive the fact that they’ve barely deviated from the source material. The potency is rarely eased throughout, and though this is a stronger film for those unfamiliar with the original, Gyllenhaal’s compelling performance lights such a spark that the film earns its right regardless. The contained setting for The Guilty makes this a wise choice for the Netflix banner – the film set for the streaming service from October – but Gyllenhaal’s presence deserves the silver screen treatment if you’re so inclined.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Guilty is screening as part of this year’s Toronto Film Festival, which is being presented both in-person and virtually between September 9th and 18th, 2021. For more information head to the official TIFF page. It will be available to stream on Netflix from October 1st, 2021.