Review of “The Guilty” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ethan Hawke, directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Just three years after the taut low-budget Danish thriller The GuiltyGustav Möller’s Antoine Fuqua directs this brilliant American remake, leveraging his action sensibilities to squeeze a significant amount of tension out of its narrowly focused premise. The film, which takes place almost entirely in the confines of a Los Angeles police emergency control center, stars Jake Gyllenhaal.
As a wildfire rages in California, the temperature rises in a 911 office flooded with telephones. Taking emergency calls ranging from a married man being robbed by a prostitute to people in need of the fire department, it’s been a hectic shift for demoted police officer Joe Bayler (Jake Gyllenhaal). His shift is about to get longer when he receives a call from a woman, Emily (Riley Keough), cryptically announcing that she has been kidnapped. It’s here that Antoine Fuqua’s high-concept thriller The Guilty kicks off.
The details about the circumstances that led to Joe’s punishment are unraveled slowly throughout the film, but from the beginning it is clear that he is not suitable for this type of work. “You shouldn’t do that,” he responds to a client who admits to using drugs, and when the client expresses dismay at the possibility of an overdose, Joe’s response is even more insensitive, “It’s your fault, isn’t it? ”. Elsewhere, he rudely interrogates a cocky business guy who just got robbed by a prostitute and hangs up the phone on an injured cyclist after admonishing him “don’t ride your bike drunk, asshole,” while dodging questions from a tenacious reporter from the LA Times seeking comment before the next day’s hearing.
Placing viewers in the pressure cooker environment of the call center, where quick responses can be the difference between life and death, Fuqua’s camera follows Joe closely as he struggles to locate the missing woman. . Based solely on the information he receives, Joe must use his skills and contacts to complete the missing pieces of the puzzle.
The further Joe goes into the burrow, the more he becomes personally involved in ensuring that Emily gets home safely. Realizing that his colleagues don’t show the same sense of urgency, a frantic and sweaty Joe decides to break protocol and take matters into his own hands. Gripping his asthma inhaler like it’s a stress ball, Joe’s psychological state begins to falter as the gravity of the situation forces him to reflect on his own demons.
Considering that most of The Guilty takes place in the call center, much of which shows Joe in a room alone, Fuqua’s movie relies heavily on Gyllenhaal’s performance to keep audiences involved in Joe’s plight. The actor fulfills his end of the bargain by skillfully navigating a wave of emotions to make Joe a complex individual, his facial expression and bulging veins conveying every point of tension and rage that is brewing within him.
Despite offering an exciting performance, Gyllenhaal’s great work fails to lift the film out of the cement in which its uneven script is trapped. Although I have not seen the original Gustav Möller film from 2018 that Fuqua is remaking, one has the feeling that this version is never willing to step into the complicated darkness with which it flirts. This applies to both the heartbreaking situation Emily is in and Joe’s questionable past.
As Joe’s mental state slowly descends, the script (from Nic Pizzolatto, from True Detective) raises several interesting questions about the nature of policing, including the impact of split-second decisions officers make without taking all the facts into account. However, the film rarely reflects on them in real depth. At one point, Joe dares to reprimand a person for hiding key information, disregarding that his own rash judgment never gives the person a chance to explain themselves. The scene quickly calms down when Joe justifies his outburst by simply caring for Emily’s well-being.
This speaks to one of the central problems of The Guilty – wants to be a meditation on police work and mental health and at the same time wants to portray agents as imperfect heroes. As one of Joe’s colleagues points out, “Broken people save broken people.” It’s clear that Joe is destroyed, but Fuqua is unwilling to fully explore the scope. This makes the disgraced officer’s action at the end feel hollow rather than honorable and heroic as the film intends; It also doesn’t help that Joe’s arrogance and deteriorating mental state lead him to repeatedly make bad decisions at every turn.
His mistakes are even more glaring as the film’s unique location and tight close-ups force each of Joe’s actions to be studied with greater scrutiny. Although Fuqua finds a way to incorporate brief glimpses from the outside of the van Joe imagines Emily is trapped in, the director relies mostly on quick cuts and reports of the wildfire to visually increase the tension. Unfortunately, even this is not enough to save the film from its shortcomings.
The juxtaposition of Joe trying to figure out Emily’s whereabouts as her personal life crumbles around her allows for a captivating and emotionally charged performance, and Gyllenhaal gives her best as Fuqua keeps the camera moving, creating a sense of energy. kinetic even when Joe remains tied to his desk. We feel Joe’s panic as he grabs his asthma inhaler and struggles to catch his breath, we understand his frustration when a track turns into a dead end and he angrily throws a lamp against the wall, and we sympathize with his pain when he tries comfort Emily’s terrified six-year-old daughter.
The Guilty It’s not exactly a one-man show, but it might as well be. Aside from fleeting glimpses of other 911 operators, Gyllenhaal is the only actor we see, and the supporting cast – Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Eli Goree and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, just to name a few – are limited to giving voice. This puts Gyllenhaal in the driver’s seat of the entire experience, and her on-screen presence has arguably never been more commanding. The script from the creator of True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto, offers little improvement over the 2018 original, but Fuqua’s confident steering and punchy Gyllenhaal interpretation are worth the price of admission.
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The Guilty (2021) de Antoine Fuqua