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The Guilty (2021) | Film Review

by Dimitra Karagiannopoulou

Based on the Danish psychological thriller Den Skyldige (2018) by Gustav Möller, Antoine Fuqua's remake The Guilty, produced by Netflix and with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role, is an honest cinematic venture that nevertheless constitutes a pure copy of the original film. The thrust of the story revolves around Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal), a police officer who has been demoted and is now working in an Emergency Action and Management call centre in Los Angeles. This man appears to be mechanically carrying out the obligations of his post. One day, he receives a crucial phone call from a panicked woman named Emily (Riley Keough), who claims to have been kidnapped, when suddenly their connection is interrupted. Joe will try anything to save her, but he discovers that many things are not as they seem.

The Guilty takes place entirely in the police station where Joe works. This limitation of space is certainly a challenge for director Antoine Fuqua who manages, to a large extent, to keep the audience's interest undiminished, as his directorial choices intensify the mystery and the feeling of suspense. Among the film’s qualities is the claustrophobic, heavy and evocative atmosphere that is cultivated from the outset and at a relatively fast pace. Its protagonist, Jake Gyllenhaal, has all the weight of the film on him, as the other actors appearing on screen occupy only minor roles. Gyllenhaal gives another amazing performance by playing a character who doesn’t necessarily become likeable but is neither completely hated. While Joe is a character who is not one-dimensional, he is distinguished mainly by overreactions and outbursts, which probably do not suit his profession.

Courtesy of IMDb

The weaknesses presented by the film mainly concern the script. Although it successfully introduces a major plot twist that is not easily predictable, at the end of it, Joe's personal story is lost in the panic of the kidnapping phone call. While some references are made to what he has done, the audience cannot form a complete view of his personality and actions. In this way, Joe's final decision doesn't have much emotional impact on the audience, and the issues of justice and police brutality that the film is trying to address feel casually thrown in at its hasty end.

The Guilty is a mystery film that, despite Gyllenhaal’s remarkable performance, leaves you with a bitter taste. The end of the film, instead of leading us to the coveted redemption, leads us to the ultimate disenchantment. But if you like these kinds of movies, with characters at the breaking point and desperate to be redeemed, then I would highly recommend you watch the original Danish film.


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