‘The Guilty’ Movie Review: A Risky Shot At Redemption

‘The Guilty’ Movie Review

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Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an award-worthy performance in the crime thriller ‘The Guilty’ directed and produced by ‘Training Day’ helmer Antoine Fuqua. If the title sounds familiar, you are not wrong, as the feature is actually a note for note remake of the Danish original of the same name, which debuted in 2018 to critical acclaim.

Most of the events happen around Gyllenhaal and Christina Vidal’s characters; however, there are other stars whose voices feature in the title, including Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Eli Goree, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Paul Dano.

‘The Guilty’ had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, got a limited theatrical release on 24th and is now streaming on Netflix from October 1. 

In this feature, Jake embodies the role of Joe Baylor, a Los Angeles detective who has been demoted and temporarily assigned to a police dispatch center, where he’s been struggling to fit in for a month if he’s been trying at all. Instead of being out there chasing the bad guys, he’s stuck on a desk job, and it is apparent that he loathes the headset duty. Audiences learn that Joe is also asthmatic, and when he is introduced, he is gasping for air in the bathroom, desperately sucking on his asthma inhaler after an attack. It is evident that Joe is constantly irritated or even bored, judging by the attitude and arrogance he portrays while relating to his colleagues or even the way he handles the calls he doesn’t deem emergencies. 

‘The Guilty’ Movie Review

Fuqua’s reimagination of this classic, though, somehow loses a little of the original director’s subtlety, nuance, and effective silences. However, this new version is more flexible when it comes to the time and manages to deliver an exhilarating tale enhanced by the enticing screen presence of Jake Gyllenhaal. 

Fuqua and screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto did an excellent job tying the protagonist’s conduct into mistakes frequently committed within police work without ever turning the picture into a commentary on defunding the police. The fact remains that this night is the eve of Joe’s appearance in court, apparently for mistakes he made on the job, which eventually led to his current situation. What happens to this cop on this fateful night pretty much gives a clear picture of how officers often act with urgency and in the wrong way by allowing their emotions to overshadow logic. It also shows a side of a desperate man seeking to redeem himself professionally and personally who sees the perfect opportunity and grabs it with both hands, albeit the consequences.

As mentioned, Gyllenhaal’s performance as Joe is astounding. Not many people are surprised by this, though, as fans and critics alike know the actor always gives top-notch deliveries of every single role he takes on; the ‘Night Crawler’ is a perfect indicator. The superstar gives his all in every single frame of this movie. He excellently conveys the tenor of a broken man right from the beginning. In this remake, though there is an emotional undercurrent of salvation exhibited by Joe which wasn’t present in the original, which makes it even better.

The emotional rage in Joe is exploited as he furiously taps on the various phone buttons, staring at the screen of his computer with huge monitors flooded by raging wildfires as he struggles to help save the victims, especially one named Emily who has been abducted by her ex-husband while her eight-year-old daughter is home alone. Joe realizes the danger facing both and has to wittingly get details of both victims’ locations in an attempt to save them both.

Joe definitely invests all his energy and focus on this one specific case. It dawns on audiences that he is on an atonement mission of some sort, making promises he can’t certainly keep as he isn’t in total control of the circumstances. So, this particular case sets all his antennas high on alert and instead of handing over the very volatile case as per protocol, he decides to solve the crime himself.

What follows is a taut cat and mouse chase done entirely on the phone, and soon one realizes that Joe’s undivided interest, in this case, is more personal than it is professional. Joe himself is dealing with a separation from his own family, and at some point, he even tries to call his daughter to just wish her a good night

Apart from one or two co-workers at the 911, emergency call center Joe is the character that dominates the movie’s 90 minutes running time. Other roles play in the form of the voices on his headset, whether from people reporting the emergencies or his colleagues and superiors attending to the emergencies.

There is a reason why Fuqua makes iconic masterpieces, and, in this flick, he lives up to his praise. Instead of adding graphics or other elements into the film, the acclaimed director, knowing his lead’s skill, opted to put the film’s weight entirely on Joe’s shoulders. To make sure this works together with the editor Jason Ballantine, he lets Joe’s conversations run in continuous shots that keep audiences engaged.

The cinematography done by Maz Makhani is visually enticing. Offering audiences all different angles they can ogle Joe from. These shots are also presented in numerous closeups of Gyllenhaal’s face and his surroundings intentionally done to portray his emotional wellbeing as he grapples with the various emergencies and the desperation as he rushes against the clock in an attempt to save those in dire need. Sometimes the camera zooms into items on Joe’s desk. Marcelo Zaryo composed the uncanny score, which is expertly placed throughout the film. The music really lets viewers feel every breath, including when Joe desperately sucks on his inhaler as he wheezes during an asthma attack.

‘The Guilty’ was shot in the coronavirus pandemic era and filmed in 11 days with a limited crew. Exhibiting excellent, sensational machinations and its pumped-up emotionalism, the film is a clear portrait of a mental meltdown that turns out to be a fantastic one-man show. Just like the man Gyllenhaal embodies in such a convincing and relatable manner, it definitely gets the job done.


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