The Guilty Review
The Guilty (2021) Film Review, a movie directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Christina Vidal, Eli Goree, Ethan Hawke, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Christiana Montoya, David Castaneda, Adrian Martinez, Oscar Balderrama, Becky Wu, Bret Eric Porter, Maurice Webster, Beau Knapp, Edi Patterson, Paul Dano and Gillian Zinser.
Director Antoine Fuqua has successfully remade a highly acclaimed 2018 Danish picture called The Guilty. Jake Gyllenhaal again teams up with Fuqua for a superb collaboration in terms of acting and directing. Gyllenhaal previously starred in Fuqua’s 2015 gem Southpaw and, even then, it was clear that Fuqua can bring out the best in Gyllenhaal. What’s interesting about the new picture is how well the film sustains interest even if one has seen the original movie it is based on. While there are definitely flaws in the new movie, it remains a fast paced one-man show that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Fuqua directed Denzel Washington to an Oscar win in the 2001 film Training Day. He could lead Gyllenhaal to a Best Actor nod for his compelling role in The Guilty.
When we meet Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal), he has a bad attitude. He’s an asthmatic Los Angeles dispatcher who answers 911 calls as if he thinks some of the calls coming in are slightly less than urgent. That is until he gets a call he may wish he never answered. Emily (voiced by Riley Keough) seems to have been abducted as she gives information to Joe about her whereabouts in “yes” or “no” responses. Joe asks her questions and starts to piece together not only that the woman is in serious trouble but that her young daughter is as well. Joe begins to feel the need to help them and puts out a search for the car she is apparently riding in–a white van.
Joe has a background story. He has a child of his own and was once an officer before he was demoted to a dispatcher. There is a parallel story to the main events of the film in which something Joe did in his past will soon be brought into light and he will be judged accordingly for it.
The main action of the picture, however, centers around Joe getting the help for the woman in jeopardy and her kids (she also has a baby boy). It seems the man Emily is involved with is serious trouble at first. When Joe sends people from outside on quests to discover information and help remedy the situation, it slowly becomes apparent that there is much more going on than what appeared to be happening on the surface.
Gyllenhaal commands the attention of the viewer right from the word “go.” His troubled character remains noble throughout despite his flaws because of his intentions to help Emily. Joe feels somewhat personally responsible for her safety and, perhaps, if he can save her and her family, he can find redemption for the problems he is facing in his own personal life.
Director Antoine Fuqua keeps the pacing and the momentum going throughout the film. He gets some of the best work from Gyllenhaal whose turn ranks among his most fierce and furious performances to date. Joe is a well layered character with a sense of urgency that only he can truly understand because it is within himself that he feels the need to go above and beyond his job description to have a shot at personal salvation by helping this family.
There are some minor problematic aspects in The Guilty. The original film still slightly surpasses the new film not in terms of acting but in terms of its plot development. In the new remake, the plot sometimes feels too disturbing for the tone the film sets. Without giving too much away, the revelations in the original film are a shocker and while this one also keeps the same revelations more or less, I felt the tone of the new film had set it up to take a different direction than the one it takes. But, in remaining faithful to its source material for the most part, the movie does succeed.
I felt Gyllenhaal played his part as more likable than the character was in the original. That’s why the audience roots for him despite his character deficiencies. The character in the original picture always felt like an average Joe and Gyllenhaal feels like a movie hero here. With that said, I couldn’t imagine changing the ending to accommodate the characterization but Gyllenhaal truly puts a lot of heart into his work. Riley Keough’s voice work is also moving and makes us want to see her character get the help she needs at least in the initial stages of the film. Revelations are unveiled that will change our perspectives of the characters throughout.
Despite its minor flaws, The Guilty is a powerful film. If you haven’t seen the original (or even if you have), you may just find yourself rooting for a flawed character to find the salvation that will set him free. Fuqua’s film is a winner.
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