Released three years ago, THE BLAME is a Danish film that attracted a lot of attention and surprised by the extraordinary drama that it created only from a person talking on the phone. It is true that this person was a troubled policeman who worked answering emergency calls and coming across a particularly complex case, but anyway the extraordinary work of the combo Gustav Möller (director) and Jakob Cedergren (director) managed to extract suspense and tension from with minimal elements: a man, a telephone, an office and a series of dialogues with various characters.
THE GUILTY, now translated here as GUILTY, It is nothing more than a fairly faithful remake of the original film. Here the duo is made up of director Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY, REVANCHA, EL JUSTICIERO) and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, and the action has been moved to a Los Angeles surrounded by wildfires and in which police violence is a subject of public debate. But essentially, not much has changed: the case remains practically the same and, beyond other specific details of the character, the bulk of the story is very similar.
The actor of DONNIE DARKO plays here Joe Bayler, a policeman who comes from going through a situation for which they have reduced him to attend telephone emergencies to the number 911. We are not clear at first what he is accused of but we do have a judicial hearing the next day and that there is a journalist who is chasing him to make a comment or statement about it. He also has a complicated family life: a recent divorce and a daughter he misses very much. If you add to that some asthma attacks and a general condition that we could subtly qualify as disastrous, it is clear that it is not the best type to attend delicate emergency calls.
And from the outset we see the disdain with which he handles himself, often mistreating those who call and more concerned with solving their personal problems. Until a call intrigues and worries him. It is about a woman who speaks to a girl, in a low volume, asking her to be calm and telling her that she will see her again. Joe thinks it is a mistake until he understands that the woman is in some delicate situation, such as kidnapping, and is trying to communicate with someone from outside, requesting help.
Through questions from Yes and No, plus the GPS and the data that the system is throwing at him, Joe manages to find her whereabouts: the woman is traveling with a man (he is heard in the background saying to cut) in a white van on the outskirts of Los Angeles with destination uncertain but undoubtedly dangerous. Connecting more ends here and there, communicating with that woman’s little daughter, Joe assumes that this Emily (in the voice of Riley Keough) was kidnapped by her ex-husband Henry (Peter Sarsgaard), a man with a violent past, who surely It is not a family vacation plan.
GUILTY The development of this case – which will not be as simple or obvious as it seems at first – will intersect with Joe’s personal problems. It is clear that the situation triggers very direct connections both with his life and with his personality, which is guessed violent, something that also explains the reason for his suspension from work. Anguished and nervous, rather than collaborating with the investigation, he seems to take her to increasingly complicated, problematic, unsolvable areas.
Fuqua is a good choice as director of this project, more than anything because he has an agile and nervous style that is ideal for the spatial limitations of the proposal, another one that is ideal to do in a pandemic (the rights for the remake, of they were acquired earlier anyway) by being filmed in a couple of offices, with just one actor and just a couple of barely seen co-workers. The rest – the aforementioned Keough and Sarsgaard but also Paul Dano, Ethan Hawke and others – we only hear them speak.
And Gyllenhaal is also perfect for the role, since he has a face that constantly reflects that intensity that the protagonist experiences and that goes from fear to aggression, from insecurity to violence, from physical and psychological suffering to abuse. His Joe is clearly disturbed and the actor from NIGHTCRAWLER and ZODIAC the type is very good. At times, almost too good: one has the feeling that at any moment it goes into internal combustion.
And the script by Nick Pizzolatto (the creator of TRUE DETECTIVE) did not significantly alter the proposal but did give it a specific American logic in many of the details of the case and of the protagonist’s life. His script and the film also connect with relevant current affairs in that country. The inclusion of one of them – the California wildfires – may seem a bit whimsical, but it works well to justify the inability of the cops to take care of all the requests from Joe and others who call 911. It is one of the collateral problems of that ecological disaster.
But the main thing is to discuss the issue of violence (male, police), psychological fragility and psychiatric problems that, on a daily basis, end up becoming tragic news, especially in that country. Without making of GUILTY a didactic or dogmatic film about it, Fuqua achieves that those voices, those nerves, those tensions that are manifested in the headphones and in the disturbed head of the protagonist – and of those who are on the other side of the call to «911″– are a reflection of the climate of the time. And that, more than the specifics of the case itself, is what gives value to another of those Hollywood remakes that normally lose a lot compared to the originals. That does not happen here. And it is enough.
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Festivals / Premieres: Review of “The Guilty One”, by Antoine Fuqua (Toronto / Netflix)