Your thoughts on The Guilty will potentially largely hinge on whether you know it’s a remake and if you’ve seen said remake. The Danish original is ruthlessly efficient and very riveting. This remake is, well…the same. If you’re going in blind, you’re almost certainly going to be knocked down by its non-stop intensity. At the same time, aside from the excellent lead performance, there’s basically nothing new here, so it’ll feel utterly familiar for those familiar with the original. English language remakes aren’t usually particularly good, so this manages to be much better than that. However, this movie doesn’t offer much new. Playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s certainly a change of pace for those attending the fest in person or virtually.
The Guilty manages to work even if you’ve seen the original, but those going into to this fresh may well be blown away. It’s tightly focused and keeps the revelations coming, which is a must for a film like this. Plus, having Jake Gyllenhaal in this role is a real coup. More on him later, but this is the sort of underrated performance that showcases just how talented he truly is.
Taking place almost in real time during one shift at an LAPD 911 dispatch call center. Demoted police officer Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal) is serving his time as a call operator while he waits for his court case the next morning. Joe is going through the motions and getting into spats, his mind elsewhere. Then, a caller (voice of Riley Keough) makes it clear that she’s been abducted. His cop instincts kicking in, he immediately begins trying to save her. Of course, nothing will be as it seems.
The more Joe learns about her and her family, the more convinced he is that her estranged husband (voice of Ethan Hawke) is planning to do something awful to her. So, he alternates between speaking with both of them and dealing with an overwhelmed California Highway Patrol. As that all evolves, he also tries to figure out his impending court date. That reckoning is coming, but this woman offers up a potential chance for redemption.
Jake Gyllenhaal is phenomenal here in a demanding role that may not get the appreciation it deserves. He’s so intense, but also focused, and it’s literally just him here. Nearly everyone else only appears in the film via their voice. Gyllenhaal’s face is on screen in almost every shot. What he does with his eyes, voice, and face is staggering. The aforementioned Ethan Hawke and Riley Keough are solid, but Gyllenhaal is really the draw. Supporting players include the voices of Bill Burr and Paul Dano, alongside Adrian Martinez and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, among others.
Director Antoine Fuqua and writer Nic Pizzolatto don’t reinvent The Guilty‘s wheel here. They’re content to just execute the material. Fuqua and Pizzolatto believe that you’ll be invested in their character, and rightly so. Fuqua keeps the intensity high, but mostly just focuses the camera on Gyllenhaal, allowing him to shine. Southpaw was a solid collaboration between the two, but this one is all-around better. It’s one of Fuqua’s stronger works, though Pizzolatto’s impact isn’t quite felt as much.
The Guilty has more to offer those who aren’t familiar with the Danish original, but even if you are, this film works. A lot of that has to do with Jake Gyllenhaal, allowed by Fuqua to just own the screen. Whether you see it at TIFF, in theaters, or on Netflix when it drops, you’ll likely be compelled, especially by Gyllenhaal. It’s not necessarily high art, but it’s well-executed, and that matters quite a bit.