Friday Film Review--"The Guilty"
In a new thriller streaming online, a strong lead performance is undermined by a sloppy script.
This week’s film is "The Guilty" starring Jake Gyllenhaal and an asthma inhaler.
"The Guilty" premiered at the 2021 Toronto Film Festival and is currently streaming on Netflix. The film is a remake of a highly regarded 2018 Danish film and is directed by Antoine Fuqua. The film’s trailer tantalizes as a claustrophobic thriller perfect for our technology-reliant COVID times and society’s increased attachment to cell phones. Mostly, the film delivers.
Gyllenhaal plays Joe Baylor, a tough LA police officer re-assigned to a 9-1-1 emergency call center pending an undisclosed disciplinary hearing. The audience is intentionally kept in the dark about the reason for Joe’s transfer, but he is clearly distracted by the magnitude of the outcome of an impending hearing. The film kicks off with a blend of horrific and humorous exchanges between Joe and his callers, demonstrating the intellectual pregnant pauses which occur at the start of each call as Joe has to suspend disbelief and quickly assess the legitimacy and priority of every “emergency.” The tension quickly amplifies when Joe gets a call from someone who he thinks is clowning around, but he soon realizes that the caller has been abducted.
Joe shifts back to his police officer instincts and attempts to help the woman determine her location. The degree of difficulty quickly escalates when Joe learns the caller must conceal the true nature of her conversation from her abductor, who is in a vehicle with her and can hear her talking. The middle of the film focuses on Joe’s efforts both on the phone and doing cyber detective work in between lost connections. Subsequent calls between Joe and other people connected to the woman all impart pieces to the audible puzzle. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue on these other calls detract from the successful tension built around the original call. A few are just poorly constructed conversations and pivot the film’s intentions into other political directions.
So, on my ski trail rating system, "The Guilty" earns my intermediate Blue Ski Trail rating. A fierce performance by Jake Gyllenhaal propels this tense thriller, but sloppy writing results in a steady descent into the melodramatic. Scenes which could have been so harrowing teeter on the unbelievable and almost laughable. The compromises the director chooses to presumably satisfy the impatience and immediate gratification of a US audience stalls the prior tension, notwithstanding Gyllenhaal doing his best to keep us interested. The film’s suspense is further undermined by it’s over the top, glossy execution of not-so-subtle imagery of a city on fire and police politics. However, a fun little side game is trying to figure out which actors voice the callers on all the 911 calls. The list includes Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano.
"The Guilty" is rated R for language and repeated closeups of bathroom breakdowns.