The Guilty: Film Review

Courtesy of Netflix

I was a big fan of Gustav Moller’s 2018 Danish film The Guilty and I was disappointed when it was announced an English-language remake was in the works because I didn’t think it was necessary. I still think that’s the case, even though this version is still very good.

Moving the action from Copenhagen to Los Angeles, this remake stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Baylor, a troubled police detective who has been reluctantly relegated to the 911 police dispatch office while awaiting the outcome of a mysterious hearing. During his shift, he receives a call from Emily Lighton (voiced by Riley Keough) who claims she’s been abducted and is in a white van. Baylor becomes invested in the case and does everything in his power to rescue Emily while stuck behind his desk.

The Guilty is a taut, tense thriller that gets more and more gripping as it goes along. You might think that a film set in real-time in one location with one character – we are just watching Baylor at his desk taking calls the vast majority of the time – can get a bit boring but it is so well written that you just get more interested and engrossed in the story as more nuggets of information are revealed about the case and Baylor’s past across various phone calls so you can piece together what’s happened. There are plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep you hooked.

With such a simple premise, stripped-back production and basically only one person on screen, Gyllenhaal’s performance had to be spot-on and he doesn’t disappoint. He is on-camera the entire time and he carries that responsibility easily. He gives an intense, emotional and stressed performance and Baylor’s behaviour becomes increasingly more erratic as the situation escalates. He has a lot of personal baggage to deal with too and he takes his anger out on his colleagues and callers, making very unprofessional and unlikeable choices in the process.

And the voice actors don’t let the side down. Their vocal performances are even more impressive considering they gave them from home on remote recording devices. Keough was terrific as a desperate woman terrified for her life, she sounded so realistic and believable, as did Peter Sarsgaard as Emily’s ex Henry. I also enjoyed Da’Vine Joy Randolph as a CHP dispatcher who doesn’t put up with Baylor’s demands and Eli Goree as his former police partner. You may also recognise the voices of Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano on the other end of the phone.

The Guilty, directed by Antoine Fuqua, is an intense thrill ride that is simple but very effective – you’ll be on tenterhooks the whole time if you haven’t seen the original. It is very loyal to the 2018 version so I knew what was coming so it was less impactful, but I imagine this remake will have the same effect on newcomers as the Danish film did for me. If I had to pick between them though, I’d still go for the original.

Streaming on Netflix from Friday 1st October

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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