The Guilty, 2021.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Bill Burr, Gillian Zinser, Vivien Lyra Blair, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Edi Patterson, Beau Knapp, Byron Bowers, David Castañeda, Christina Vidal, Adrian Martinez, and Eli Goree.
A demoted police officer assigned to a call dispatch desk is conflicted when he receives an emergency phone call from a kidnapped woman.
The central role of a police dispatcher frantically trying to pinpoint the location of and rescue a kidnapped woman in 2018’s scintillating Danish thriller The Guilty is a perfect marriage for Jake Gyllenhaal’s brand of intensity. Evidently, he felt the same way as he purchased the production rights for a remake shortly after release. Fortunately for director Antoine Fuqua (who could use a hit after the disastrous loopy time-twisting Mark Wahlberg vehicle Infinite), it’s nigh impossible to screw up an American adaptation considering the suspense lives or dies based on the unique and challenging premise of keeping the cameras on the troubled dispatcher for nearly the entirety of its brisk and sharp 90-minute running time.
Initially, there is a slight concern as the direction (with True Detective writer Nic Pizzolatto reworking the original script from Gustav Möller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen) highlights ongoing catastrophes such as California wildfires to the degree that suggests time and place might factor into the story itself, which would be unnecessary given that what throttles the narrative along is simplicity; one character on screen, one objective, one strung out devoted dispatcher mounting in stress and anxiety trying to mount a successful rescue in one location using only a phone and workplace computer. Thankfully, it’s a window dressing and nothing paramount to the actual story. Additionally, the script has tried to elaborate on the intention of the muddy backstory of the demotion by giving the protagonist a wife and child that are distancing themselves from him, much to his frustration.
Aside from that, this version of The Guilty remains incredibly faithful to its counterpart, which has its positives (the mystery element, while somewhat predictable, is darkly exhilarating with each new revelation from whichever family member of the kidnapped is reached out to next) and negatives. In the year 2021, law enforcement redemption stories involving police shootings should be slightly more probing. That’s also not to be confused with exploiting Black trauma or anyone’s trauma from police abuse, but one can’t help sensing the missed potential to really elevate this, admittedly recent story, for the here and now.
Nevertheless, the dispatcher is Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal, putting a more temperamental and angry slant on the performance, perhaps showing a bit too much emotion at times), mostly taking calls from buffoons that don’t have real emergencies. This also allows Antoine Fuqua to sneak in a few cameos and small doses of comic relief (Bill Burr happens to voice one of the callers after drunkenly crashing his bike and scraping his knee). Barring those few jokester instances, The Guilty exercises relentless tension once a hysterically panicking Emily Lighton (a superb Riley Keough brilliantly expressing the various layers of her characters using just her voice) calls from locked inside the back of a white van that her criminal ex-husband Henry Fisher (Peter Sarsgaard) is driving.
The destination is unknown, but that doesn’t stop Joe from going along with Emily’s decoy attempt to pretend she is talking to her daughter, using the dynamic to ask questions that have yes or no answers regarding her dangerous predicament and what he can do to ensure safety. Of course, the line is broken (although it should be noted that the script consistently finds believable ways to do so and get Joe talking to other characters), prompting Joe to take advantage of every database tool at his disposal to get more information. This leads him to discover that the former partners now live in two separate houses and where the children are.
Joe also has a reporter consistently phoning his personal cell ready to run a smear article (whatever he was involved in doesn’t sound good, explaining away his compulsion with saving Emily and earning some form of redemption), while occasionally chatting with other LAPD staff such as a sergeant voiced by Ethan Hawke and a CPH voiced by Da’Vine Joy Randolph. He also gets his off-duty partner Rick (Eli Goree) involved, who has a crisis of his own whether or not to tell the truth at an upcoming hearing for Joe or go along with a fabricated retelling absolving him of whatever violence occurred.
A few elements are new ideas for this remake of The Guilty, whereas most are the same ingredients that made the original film, such a simmering, explosive watch. The ending is definitely Hollywood-ized, and not every new idea or alteration works, but it’s also primarily The Guilty, now with Jake Gyllenhaal. Again, it would be a shock if that somehow went sideways and wasn’t an addictive watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com