The Guilty – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough, Christina Vidal Mitchell, Eli Goree, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard
Available on Netflix September 30th
Don’t let the starry cast list fool you as pretty much the only person you see on screen here is Jake Gyllenhaal. Not because it’s a vanity project but simply due to the nature of the story.
This is a remake of The 2018 Danish thriller also called The Guilty and sees Gyllenhaal play Joe Baylor, a cop who has been demoted to 911 dispatch operator while he awaits a hearing over previous dubious actions. While going through the motions answering dodgy 911 calls and also fielding calls from reporters about his upcoming case, he picks up a call from a woman called Emily (Keogh). She is obviously distressed and claims she has been kidnapped. Realising that she can’t talk and that she is using the guise of calling her daughter to get access to a phone he takes her through a series of yes and no questions to try and establish her location and what happened. Emily’s precarious plight and Joe’s attempts to save her make up the bulk of this 90-minute drama and along the way he has some hard-hitting realisations about his own situation.
Director Fuqua resists the temptation to cut away from Gyllenhaal and expand on the world of the story, or to add cheesy effects like a ticking clock, and this makes it feel incredibly taut. The tension is almost Hitchcockian, and Gyllenhaal completely commits to this complex character. It is incredibly difficult to retain the interest of an audience when you are pretty much the only person on screen for the duration of the movie but Gyllenhaal manages to keep the viewer engaged and take them on a real journey. Indeed this is pretty much an acting masterclass from him.
Although the basic premise is simple the story manages to touch on many topics including police abuse of power, domestic violence and toxic masculinity but it never feels preachy. Rather it puts ideas out there and leaves the audience to process them. It is a deceptively layered piece that has multiple twists and turns despite the claustrophobic setting.
This is the kind of film 2013’s The Call, starring Halle Berry, wanted to be. However, that was unable to retain the on-screen tension or the audience interest and did itself no favours with a convoluted ending. By contrast, this will have you glued until the final scene. A great example of the magic that can happen when you have an actor and director working in harmony, this is a brilliant thriller that will keep you guessing throughout. Definitely add this to your watch list.