Based on the 2018 Danish film of the same name, “The Guilty” is a story with universal themes and clever storytelling. This new American version of the film is very close to the original, yet the changes that are made serve to heighten the themes for an American audience.
Set entirely inside a Los Angeles 911 operations center in real-time, “The Guilty” stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Bayler. What makes this film so unique is that Gyllenhaal’s character is the only one on screen for the entirety of this 90-minute ride.
Bayler is a cop whose fall from grace has landed him answering phones at the 911 call center while awaiting a verdict on an undisclosed crime he committed while on duty. The premise may be simple, but it’s enhanced by the subtle complexity that is written into the main character of Joe. Not only is he battling the stress and anxiety of his upcoming verdict, but he’s an asthmatic living in fire-ravaged California, and he’s dealing with what is obviously a failed marriage while trying to simply say goodnight to his daughter. The real-time setting is ripe for drama as the night progresses and the bigger mystery is unveiled.
Director Antoine Fuqua shows off his prowess behind the lens utilizing great restraint in a film that could easily have been filled with ticking clock graphics and overproduced attempts to create tension. Instead, he chooses the subtler route, leaving all the cues resting on Gyllenhaal’s able shoulders. The way in which the film relays Joe’s state of mind as it relates to his phone calls feels perfect, as does Fuqua’s ability to create tension with close-ups, creative edits and camera placement, which all create an engrossing experience. There is a certain aesthetic in the way the film is lit that lends itself to the story, making the setting just as important as the characters.
As Joe answers phone calls, he eventually connects with a fateful emergency call that changes everything, as he is pulled into a mystery that will make him question everything. During those phone calls, he speaks to a myriad of stellar voice actors that all elevate the story, including Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Bill Burr and Paul Dano.
The modern-day police setting and the unmentioned crime Joe has committed put a timely spin on this remake that ends up working for the better. Oftentimes audiences may reject American remakes of beloved foreign films because of the fondness they hold for the original, but in certain situations, when the material is bolstered by creative and well-thought-out ideas there can be some diamonds in the rough that rise from the ashes. Add in the fact that it’s not just an IP grab for a quick buck or a shot for shot remake, and it’s clear “The Guilty” is one of those worthwhile remakes.
This film has some true talent behind the scenes that take “The Guilty” from simply behind about one mysterious phone call and turn it into a 90-minute thriller with layered characters and compelling storytelling.
Film critic and member of the NCFCA and SEFCA