Jake Gyllenhaal certainly doesn’t phone in his performance in The Guilty. Instead delivering intensity, anger, obsession and desperation as a 911 operator in Netflix’s remake of the Danish original.
To quote Dante from Clerks, Joe Baylor is “not even supposed to be here today”. A street detective who has been sidelined to the emergency responder’s call centre while awaiting a court hearing. It is the night before the trial and Baylor takes a call from a woman who has been abducted. This triggers a desperate race to save her before his shift is over.
One of the successes of Gustav Moller’s Oscar-nominated film was it’s incredibly tight, well-written screenplay that kept all the action within the call centre whilst unfolding in real time. The US version follows the original screenplay pretty much beat for beat, proving that a great story is a great story in any language.
A great story however can mean nothing if you don’t have the right people to tell it and thankfully, the cast are more than able to step up to the challenge. Gyllenhaal, consistently one of the most interesting actors of the last decade, delivers a blistering performance as the cop at risk of losing it all. The majority of the film has the camera fixed firmly on his face and it picks up every subtle microgesture, bodily and vocal ticks. He is able to not only drive the rescue story forward but he is adept at providing a slow burn release on his own demons (the nature of his demotion is never specified at the start).
Of the vocal performances, it is Riley Keough as Emily who makes the strongest connection (pardon the pun). Her trembling, tearful vocals exude a fragility and vulnerability that taps into Baylor’s protective nature and quickly establishes a bond that will push both of them to their limits.
By having all the action set in one location, Fuqua is able to turn the dial up on the pressure cooker. When he does attempt to make minor aesthetic changes and flourishes to the original, then it does falter. For example, when waiting on a response to a call, the camera creates a smoky visualisation of what Joe imagines is taking place. Also one major change to the film’s denouement feels like a very cheap, cynical Hollywood move for a happier ending.
It was only last year that Parasite won Best Picture at the Oscars and there was a glimmer of hope for audiences becoming more accepting of foreign language films. However by producing a carbon copy, The Guilty feels like this is just a case of a remake for Western audiences who are yet to overcome the one inch barrier of subtitles.
Fans of the original will feel like they have been put on hold listening to the same piece of music on a 90 minute loop but for new audiences, this is an edge-of-your-seat thriller than you won’t want to hang up on.
The Guilty is available to stream on Netflix from October 1.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke
Runtime: 90 minutes