Director(s): Antoine Fuqua
Writer(s): Nic Pizzolatto
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal
Synopsis: A demoted police officer assigned to a call dispatch desk is conflicted when he receives an emergency phone call from a kidnapped woman.
Remaking a highly regarded film – 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and 83 on Metacritic – is a tall task. Remaking a highly regarded film only three years after the original is near impossible. That is the challenge that Antoine Fuqua and company had to go up against in making the American version of the Denmark film Den skyldige (a.k.a The Guilty).
Truth be told, I have never seen the original The Guilty, so this was my first dive into this material. Practically a “one-man-show,” demoted police officer Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) takes us through one of the most important nights of his life, as he tries to save a family through a series of phone calls.
This idea is one that can be interesting if done right, but it is also one that can be abysmal if done wrong. The most recent “phone call” movie I can remember that was done correctly was Locke. Tom Hardy gave a revelatory performance in that film as a guy with a phone signal, and Jake Gyllenhaal attempts to do the same here.
For the first hour or so of this film, Joe is obsessed with forcing his way into the situation. He is adamant with the police telling them to “go kick the door in” of the man accused of kidnapping, he attempts to talk Emily (voiced by Riley Keough) into using brute force to escape her captor, and he is even forceful in his personal life when talking to his recently divorced wife.
For the first two acts this is what we get, and while it works, I was feeling like I wanted more from Gyllenhaal’s performance. Every situation was resolved this way, and while this is the sort of acting we have seen Gyllenhaal pull off for years, I was wanting the anomalous actor to try a different approach.
Then, the film begins to take some pretty unexpected turns, which cause Joe to reflect on his own life. Why he was demoted, and why he was put into this situation as a whole. Gyllenhaal seamlessly alters his performance from manic to empathetic. This race against time he has gotten himself into has become so much more thanks to his own actions, and when it seems like there is no way out he goes back to the drawing board.
I think here is where we get some of Gyllenhaal’s best acting in quite some time. Gyllenhaal fully commits to this performances and proves that he can pull off emotional pathos just as well as pure maniacal energy, and delivers a fully layered performance. Instead of talking people into harmful situations, he is bringing people out of it. Joe fully understands his role and can finally realize he can’t run from these issues.
The supporting cast of this film does a magnificent job in building tension throughout. Riley Keough is the main standout as her voice acting made it really seem as though she was in peril. Her tone and the shakiness in her voice lended itself well to this daunting situation she was in. Truly, every voice actor in this film really brought enough to the table to help Gyllenhaal battle through these 90 minutes on screen, and they all do fantastic jobs.
Antoine Fuqua, who has made his fair share of thrillers in the past, does his best to direct this film with enough tense moments and action filled conversations to keep viewers engaged throughout. While the story doesn’t always flow the way it probably should, and some directorial choices seem out of place for the idea, the film still manages to work well enough as an action filled thriller.
The pacing is superb as the 90 minutes seemingly fly by, and while the images are not always clear, the conversations paint a picture that is thrilling to listen to. The fast paced upbeat nature of this film is one of the best thing the movie has going for it, because it forces the audience to remain fully invested in this film. That and the performance we get from Gyllenhaal create this engaging nature in the film, and whether Jake Gyllenhaal is screaming into a headset, or crying in a bathroom, you want to understand this story. Even if it might not necessarily hold a candle to the original, it still manages to stand on its own as a solid action thriller.
Final: The Guilty is a solid action thriller thanks to a committed Jake Gyllenhaal. Antoine Fuqua attempts to build this world through conversations and sounds, and while it might not always work, it’s at the very least engaging.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.