The Guilty is a new Netflix remake of a Danish film of the same name. For once I can’t judge a remake on the basis of the original as I’ve never seen it, and with minimal preconceptions I found The Guilty to be an enjoyable, tense watch.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer), the film is set in Los Angeles during the raging wildfires that have taken over the state. Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an LAPD detective that has been demoted to dispatcher following an unknown incident, that is later revealed during the course of the film. He’s on a late shift and unsurprisingly distracted as he’s due in court the next day for a trial regarding the unknown incident. Through phone calls, we learn he’s having difficulties with his wife who’s unwilling to let him speak to his daughter, and he’s also being hounded by the media for his side of the story.
During his shift, Joe takes various calls including ones from a drug user and a man who has been robbed by a prostitute (Paul Dano). Later, he takes a call from Emily Lighton (Riley Keough) who has been kidnapped and is being held captive in a van travelling along the interstate. Joe does his best to help Emily and find out where she is, including involving the California Highway Patrol, but eventually her captor ends the call. Determined to rescue her, Joe begins his own investigation into Emily’s life to try and find out who kidnapped her.
Joe soon discovers after speaking to Emily’s daughter, who has been left home alone, that Emily has been abducted by her daughter’s father Henry (Peter Sarsgaard). He then contacts his old partner Rick (Eli Goree) and Sergeant Bill Miller (Ethan Hawke) to enlist their help in safeguarding Emily’s family and trying to discover where Henry might be heading. However, as time passes and Joe’s desperation increases, he learns that all might not be what it seems with Emily and her abduction.
Considering this film is set almost entirely in a 911 dispatch room and focuses almost solely on Jake Gyllenhaal on the phone staring at a computer screen, the amount of tension and intrigue that is built here is impressive. This is mainly due to some incredible performances, both from Gyllenhaal and from those present by voice only, with Riley Keough noticeably standing out. Gyllenhaal has proven time and time again that he is a fantastic and reliable actor no matter what the film or subject matter, and he does it again here. He’s very compelling to watch and considering it’s his face we see for the entirety of the 90-minute run time, this film wouldn’t have worked as well without him.
But all of the actors, even the voice ones, do well to portray the tension and desperation of the situation, painting us a picture that is so vivid that we don’t actually need to see things unfold on screen. The most notable is about halfway through when an officer (David Castańeda) walks into a particularly horrific scene at a home – the horrors this makes you as a viewer imagine are pretty impressive.
I did feel like some of the cinematography let this down. Overall, it is well executed and the close-up camera shots of Gyllenhaal in particular poignant scenes work well. But the use of slow motion and some stylistic shots didn’t quite work for me and some of the score feels a little too overly dramatic. You also have to suspend your disbelief a little with some of Joe’s actions as they’re a little bit ridiculous and incredibly far-fetched to believe a 911 dispatcher would actually go to these lengths. But this might just be my cynicism from working in this sort of industry.
Having gone into The Guilty with no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by what a tense and enjoyable thriller this turned out to be, due in no small part to the fantastic performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!