THE STORY – A troubled police detective demoted to 911 operator duty scrambles to save a distressed caller during a harrowing day of revelations — and reckonings.
THE CAST – Jake Gyllenhaal, Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough, Christina Vidal Mitchell, Eli Goree, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Paul Dano & Peter Sarsgaard
THE TEAM – Antoine Fuqua (Director & Nic Pizzolatto (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 90 Minutes
By Zoe Rose Bryant
American remakes of hit foreign films are nothing new at this point. However, while some have been rapturously received – from the Best Picture-winning “The Departed,” to genre classics like “The Ring” and “Let Me In” – others have had much less critical success, such as Kevin Hart’s “The Upside” (an American take on the French buddy comedy-drama “The Intouchables”) and Will Ferrell’s “Downhill” (a far more juvenile interpretation of Sweden’s “Force Majeure“). Therefore, when it was announced that the acclaimed 2018 Danish crime thriller “The Guilty” would be remade for American audiences, everyone was naturally a little apprehensive. Which group would the film fall into? Casting Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role so brilliantly brought to life by Jakob Cedergren in the original film went a long way to earning our faith – as did bringing on Antoine Fuqua to direct, who has shown quite a talent for helming thrillers – but the jury was still out on its quality. Thankfully, “The Guilty” fans can rest easy as, while this Netflix remake doesn’t alter the story in any significant way, it remains as riveting as ever, and Gyllenhall turns in reliably great work as the lead overstressed 911 operator.
The film follows Gyllenhaal’s Joe Bayler, an embittered former LAPD officer who has been temporarily demoted to the role of answering emergency calls while awaiting his disciplinary hearing for an act of violence committed while on duty. In the midst of one of his usual night shifts, as a wildfire is raging towards Los Angeles, Bayler is overwhelmed with the typical absurd requests for assistance (including a man complaining that a prostitute he solicited stole his car). Still, one call stands out – that of an anguished woman named Emily (Riley Keough), who acts as if Joe is her daughter when she dials in, with the operator soon catching on to the fact that she is trapped in a car with her ex-husband (Peter Sarsgaard) and speaking discreetly as she is driven to an unknown location. At the same time, her children are left at home, all alone. Throwing himself into his work, Joe makes it his mission to save this woman before it’s too late, staying past his shift and ignoring all protocol in his efforts to get her home safe, with his uncontained rage threatening to ruin his valiant efforts.
First and foremost, much as was the case in the original film, “The Guilty” is a showcase for the star playing the lead role. Gyllenhaal undeniably makes the most of the 90 minutes the camera is glued to his face, exhibiting nearly every emotion known to man as he strains to save Emily and simultaneously battle personal demons. Alternating between concealing his inner ire and letting it consume him entirely, Joe is a constantly ticking time bomb, and it’s fascinating to watch as Gyllenhaal grapples with this internal tug-of-war. With perceptive precision, he knows precisely when to go big and exactly when to dial the bombast down, never careening into a caricature of a “cop with anger management issues.” His treatment of Joe’s temperament is far more tender, making for a more authentic and affecting portrayal of this kind of part overall, earning our empathy even if we can’t condone every one of his actions. It’s an honorable highpoint in a career full of similarly terrific turns, and thanks to his relentlessly convincing commitment to this character, the movie is never a bore, despite its sole focus on his face.
Fuqua’s direction isn’t anything too flashy – primarily because he’s confined to this single dispatch center throughout the entire movie – but he excels when closing in on Gyllenhaal’s visage and letting his star sell the whole endeavor, wringing all the pressure out of his phone calls possible. “True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto pens a sincerely suspenseful script, complete with all the requisite twists and turns we expect from a thriller. Still, the only downside is that, for those who have seen the original “The Guilty,” this is practically the same story, with only a few additional comments on the problems about policing in America (“shoot first, ask questions later,” etc.) and the terrors of toxic masculinity (seen in Joe’s uncontrollable temper). With that said, viewers with virgin eyes and ears will be appropriately shocked by all the surprises “The Guilty” has in store, as the reveals here are as enthralling as ever, smartly spaced out throughout the film’s runtime. Additionally, this remake sets itself apart from the original with its stacked voice cast, all of whom leave a lasting impression. Standouts include an intense Riley Keough as the kidnapped Emily and a delightfully dismissive Da’Vine Joy Randolph as a California Highway Patrol worker Joe bickers with (as their conversations represent the first time Joe has “met his match”).
Film fans may bristle at the idea of yet another American remake of an acclaimed foreign film that adds nothing to the original and only serves as a carbon copy designed for those who can’t bring themselves to watch a movie with subtitles. However, “The Guilty” is nevertheless wonderfully well-made on every level. Jake Gyllenhaal’s powerhouse lead performance alone makes it worth a watch. For audiences looking for a sturdy, slick, well-produced thriller, they can’t do much better than “The Guilty,” which is deftly designed to keep you glued to the screen for a mere 90 minutes – and with the scintillating shocks the film has in store, that surely won’t be a problem.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Jake Gyllenhaal’s relentless commitment to his character is riveting. In spite of the film’s limited focus, he holds your attention for the whole 90 minutes.
THE BAD – It’s pretty much the same story you saw three years ago in the original Danish film.