Review by Sean Boelman
In the three years since the Danish police thriller The Guilty came out, the themes haven’t aged particularly well at all. While Antoine Fuqua’s American remake of the same name is still a suspenseful thriller, and Jake Gyllenhaal gives a great performance, the poor timing doesn’t do it any favors.
The film follows a police officer who has been demoted to manning the dispatch desk as he receives a high-stakes kidnapping call on the last day before he is due to be restored to duty. It’s a simple premise, but that is a big part of what makes it so effective. Admittedly, it loses a lot of its impact if you’ve seen the previous version, but it still creates a lot of tension.
Fuqua does a great job of directing the movie in a way that maximizes suspense. After about fifteen minutes of introduction, it hops right into the action and doesn’t let up until the very end. Admittedly, as was the case with the original film, the script reveals its cards a bit too early, but it will shock those who don’t know what to expect.
That said, writer Nic Pizzolatto absolutely misses the mark when it comes to addressing some of the themes in the script. There are some underlying ideas in the script about corruption within the police force, but they are underdeveloped at best. The result is that the movie ends up feeling apologetic, which is not a good look.
The character development of the film is a bit of a mixed bag. Interestingly enough, the protagonist is far more underdeveloped than some of the unseen characters. The character mostly sticks to his archetype, especially when his arc becomes clear. On the other hand, those characters which we only hear via the phone have more layers, even if they aren’t exactly nuanced.
Gyllenhaal’s leading performance is the single biggest asset on display here. Since the movie is largely a showcase for him, he has to carry the entire thing on his shoulders, and he pulls it off. For support, he does have some solid voice acting turns from Peter Sarsgaard and Riley Keough that go well with his work.
Given the fact that the film is set entirely in the dispatch call center, Fuqua had to do some interesting things with the execution to build suspense. We are staring at Gyllenhaal’s face for a majority of the runtime, but the editing and use of sound in the movie keep the viewer invested and in a heightened state of anxiety.
The Guilty will undoubtedly work much better for those who haven't seen the film which it is remaking, but it’s still a solid thriller even for those who have. Regardless, one will be left wishing that Nic Pizzolatto had adapted the script a bit less directly.
The Guilty screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 9-18.