REVIEW: “The Guilty” (2021)

New on Netflix this weekend is Antoine Fuqua’s “The Guilty”, an American remake of a terrific 2018 Danish film from director Gustav Möller. “The Guilty” is an interesting choice for Fuqua and dramatically different than the more action-oriented movies the filmmaker is known for. To his credit, Fuqua captures much of the taut tension of the original film and he manages the single-setting challenges well enough.

The entire film takes place in a 911 dispatch center where Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) works as an operator. I won’t say too much about him considering a healthy chunk of the movie is spent unwrapping his troubled character over the course of one eventful night. Suffice it to say, he’s been taken off the streets pending an upcoming trial for [REDACTED]. The stress from his looming court date along with his recent split with his wife has Joe on edge.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

Joe’s evening takes a dramatic turn when he receives a call from a little girl named Abby (voiced by Christiana Montoya) who tells him her mother Emily (Riley Keough) has been kidnapped. Joe makes a promise to Abby that she will see her mother again. He then spends the rest of the night trying to keep his promise. Meanwhile Joe’s personal story gets messier as his own problems begin to fester. He’s in a mess as evident by the pesky Los Angeles Times reporter (Edi Patterson) who keeps calling. “I just want you to be able to tell your side of the story,” she claims.

The vast majority of the running time plays out over telephones and police radios. Fuqua does a sufficient job building suspenseful but has a hard time keeping the tension ratcheted up throughout the tight 90 minutes. The story (from screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto) unfolds at a pretty good pace, and we get some good voice work from Keough, Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano, Peter Saarsgard, and Eli Goree.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

Unfortunately the last 20 minutes sees the film’s central conceit begin to fizzle. It’s not helped by Gyllenhaal’s character who is relentlessly volatile, unlikable, and ever stressed to the point of almost snapping. The performance is solid, but Gyllenhaal is asked to portray Joe with such aggression that it’s almost impossible to connect with him.

Fuqua does add some interesting touches, such as setting his movie to the backdrop of the California wildfires. But no matter how hard the film tries, it’s never able to muster the same intensity or humanity as its Danish inspiration. Perhaps seeing the 2018 film set my expectations at a certain level. Fuqua’s version, though entertaining to a point, simply doesn’t have the same spark and ends up being a pretty pale comparison. “The Guilty” premieres Friday (September 24th) on Netflix.


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