Taut thriller keeps you on the line until the final frame
October 6, 2021
It’s no secret that American remakes of foreign-language films often fall short of their predecessors. For every success like The Departed or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, there seem to be a handful of duds like Downhill or The Grudge — both of which were released just last year — that get lost in translation.
Based on the 2018 Danish thriller of the same name, The Guilty retains many of the plot points from the film that inspired it but amps up much of the understated tension that permeated the original. This formula could spell disaster for an adaptation, but in this case, the result is a hot-blooded American companion piece to the cool and collected European original that is nearly as effective.
The plot centers around Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), an overworked police officer working 911 dispatch who receives an especially distressing call at the end of his late-night shift. The voice on the other line is that of Emily (Riley Keough), whose hushed tone and coerced responses lead Joe to surmise that she’s being kidnapped. Outside of her name, phone number, and a few clues regarding her situation, Joe isn’t able to get the details that he needs to intervene in a meaningful way. With what little information he’s able to gather from the call, Joe phones other police forces like his partner Rick (Eli Goree) and his sergeant Bill (Ethan Hawke) to help find Emily before it’s too late.
The man heading up directing duties for The Guilty is Antoine Fuqua, known for helming high-octane blockbusters like the deeply silly but shallowly enjoyable Infinite from earlier this year.
Predictably, Fuqua amps up the drama and emotion from its source material but wisely retains its limited perspective. With a few minor exceptions, we never see outside of the dispatch building where Joe is trying to solve this pressing case, limited to just hearing the voices of the people with whom Joe is communicating over the phone. As handsome as Gyllenhaal may be, staring at him for 90 minutes could get stale after a while, but Fuqua along with editor Jason Ballantine urgently piece together the right shots to command our attention.
One of the most reliable and compelling actors around, Gyllenhaal turns in another terrific performance as a broken hero who feels paralyzed behind a desk when he knows what he’s capable of doing in the field. His work is unmistakably angrier than that of Jakob Cedergren as the composed protagonist in the 2018 original, but it suits the revised time and place of this American update.
Surrounded by out-of-control wildfires in modern-day Los Angeles, Joe barks orders and lashes out at fellow police officers on the phone as a result of the helplessness he feels bearing down on him. The voice cast, which also includes Paul Dano and Gyllenhaal’s real-life brother-in-law Peter Sarsgaard, is uniformly great, but Keough is especially captivating as the shaken woman that captures Joe’s unshaken attention.
With its narrative primarily being told through a series of phone conversations, The Guilty has parallels to the indie drama Locke, which is effectively a one-man-show since Tom Hardy is the only actor seen on screen.
Both films ask much of their central performer, dedicating the vast majority of their screen time with the camera centered solely on them. While Hardy had even less room to move as his Locke was locked into the speaker phone in his car, Gyllenhaal is still flanked by five imposing computer monitors and an anxiety-inducing red light that indicates when the phone line is live.
Though it contains a few creaky platitudes that Fuqua couldn’t seem to resist, The Guilty is a taut and electric thriller that will keep you on the line to the final frame.
New Movies Coming This Weekend
Coming exclusively to theaters is No Time To Die, the 25th film in the James Bond franchise starring Daniel Craig and Rami Malek which finds the iconic spy getting back to work to locate a missing scientist and uncovering a sinister scheme in the process.
Streaming on Netflix is There’s Someone Inside Your House, a slasher movie starring Sydney Park and Théodore Pellerin about a group of high school students in small-town Nebraska who are terrorized by a masked assailant.
Continuing on Amazon Prime is the Welcome to the Blumhouse series, marked by a new quartet of anthology horror films centered around institutional horrors and personal phobias.