TIFF 2021 Review: The Guilty

Year: 2021
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer(s): Nic Pizzolatto (screenplay), Gustav Moller (based on original by), Emil Nygaard Albertsen (based on original by)
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Eli Goree, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard

Antoine Fuqua is quickly becoming a writer/director that needs no introduction with the high-level thrills he delivers with films like “Training Day,” “Southpaw”, and both “Equalizer” films, but his latest film for Netflix, an American remake of Gustav Moller’s 2018 film “The Guilty”, isn’t something that he fully makes his own.

Fuqua’s version of the same name is basically a carbon copy of the original as it follows the same story beats of a police officer named Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) attempting to help an abducted woman named Emily (voiced by Riley Keough) while working as a 911 operator as a punishment for his actions in the field. Replace some of the names with more Danish variations and some small story moment executions, and this American version is basically the same as its Danish counterpart. It’s just a shame that Fuqua and writer Nic Pizzolatto couldn’t make some distinct changes from the original just to make something different for those that have seen Moller’s original film. With Fuqua showing his potential for creating great remakes and original thrills, it’s a shame that his overall approach isn’t anything more than a typical American remake.

This approach also doesn’t help the film’s ending as the minor changes made have big ramifications for the overall impact of Joe’s verdict. Throughout the film, a drastic decision that Joe made in the field haunts him and propels him into a hero complex after getting this abduction 911 call. There’s a lot of discussions he has about an upcoming court case on the matter and the real details of what happen eventually come out, but in an inferior way. There’s just something that’s not as strong about this ending compared to the original’s and frankly, it just lets Joe continue his hero complex by taking his verdict in his own hands. Rather than have his colleagues or the justice system solely hold him accountable, Joe basically holds himself accountable. While this change creates some good emotion in the film’s final moments, it just takes away from Joe having to face his actions and continues to make him look heroic when the point of his big character turn was to flip the script on how you perceive him.

It’s definitely a shame that Fuqua’s version of “The Guilty” doesn’t do much different for anyone who’s seen the original, but that doesn’t mean it’s a total loss. If anything, Fuqua definitely proves the strengths of this material and still manages to create a thrilling experience. Every call really ramps up the tension and adds a new little detail to what we already know about this abduction and Joe’s case. Fuqua keeps everything from Joe’s perspective in the 911 operator room, so you feel very immersed into the environment and situation. The pacing is also great as the Joe’s panicked desperation and growing direness of the situation really drives the film and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The voice performances of every on the phone calls are excellent and Fuqua’s direction really makes them cut deep with emotion. Not to mention, he really brings together an ace cast to make these phone calls stand out. I mean, when you pull together top talent like Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Eli Goree, Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano, and plenty others, you can only expect top-tier performances and boy do they deliver. Still though, it’s the reunion between Gyllenhaal and Fuqua that makes “The Guilty” a tense and compelling experience. Gyllenhaal delivers an explosive and fast-paced performance that keeps you hooked on the situation and he manages to maintain the emotional turmoil that’s swirling with Joe’s inner demons throughout to create an emotionally gripping performance. It’s Gyllenhaal and Fuqua doing what they do best, and it alone makes “The Guilty” a must-watch.

Most importantly, for first timers, there’s a legitimately enticing mystery that’s weaved excellently throughout “The Guilty” that provides shocking and wildly unpredictable conclusions. It’s a film that’s constantly shifting perspectives and making you question everything you’re seeing and hearing. There are plenty of wild turns and gut-wrenching reveals that’ll leave you shook and are well-executed by Fuqua and the performances. Even the truth behind Joe’s actions is peppered nicely throughout and is revealed in a heartbreaking and devastating fashion that flips the script on his display of heroism. It’s honestly the perfect type of taut and exciting thriller for Netflix and certainly shows the potential to be a big hit.

Maybe Fuqua’s “The Guilty” can’t do much for those that have seen Moller’s version, but it shows a lot of promise to be a favorite amongst Netflix subscribers looking for an emotional thrill ride full of excellent performances and shocking turns.

3.5 stars

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