In Reviews

September 24th, 2021




As far as Jake Gyllenhaal is concerned he has nothing else to prove in the profession of acting. He’s not only good at what he does, he has an ability to take the words written on a page that describe a character, and build it as his own. The wild part of his filmography is that Gyllenhaal has done it so effortlessly you could blink and not notice that he’s having his most experimental phase in the last ten years. His far out art critic in Velvet Buzzsaw, the sociopathic man with a camera in Nightcrawler, or especially with his over the top performance in Okja, it’s not right to call Jake Gyllenhaal the everyman anymore. And yet, with a boxed in character that he plays in Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty, it’s clear that Gyllenhaal is beyond just an actor, but an artist of the craft. His role is a 911-operator, a man stuck at a desk, dealing with the tragic, and wild emergency calls in the Los Angeles area. The Guilty may seem like a movie confined, but Jake Gyllenhaal makes it so much more than that. He makes it incredibly human.

This is a remake of the 2018 Danish film of the same name (a movie that I regretfully still have not seen) and with the scope and style of this narrative, it’s not a surprise that director Antoine Fuqua saw an opportunity to make something in his vision. It’s similar to a movie like Locke, where Tom Hardy was in a car driving to another city, and while driving in the vehicle he interacts with characters via the phone, which creates drama and tension. The different part of The Guilty is that the details of our main character Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal) are not revealed constantly along the way. It’s the details held close about him that make The Guilty a mystery, where the dispatcher takes calls, but tries to be on his best behavior because he’s already in trouble for something he did in his past, and with each new call he starts to crack. When he takes a call that is a possible kidnapping, that’s when Joe Baylor begins to go off the edge, doing things outside the duty of a dispatcher.

On paper it would be hard to squeeze more drama out of The Guilty outside of the phone calls that Joe takes, but the screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto- working off the original screenplay by Gustav Moller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen- allows Gyllenhaal to portray that emotion, playing off of his interactions on the calls, and slowly cracking his tough guy portrayal. The character of Joe Baylor is a veteran of the police force, but someone that has used his power to feel strong, and now that he’s in a position of weakness, his demeanor becomes frustrated as the job only allows him to do so much. The characters on the other end of the call are an incredible cast of actors- with Ethan Hawke playing one of Joe’s old police buddies, Riley Keough as the kidnapped victim in trouble, and Peter Sarsgaard as the threatening kidnapper. It’s the back and forth between the caller and Joe’s demeanor that elevates the drama and for viewers with a strong imagination, the pictures will come clear in a limited location.

That’s not to say The Guilty is a flawless film. It’s limited in scope and it’s often frustrating when a movie is given an Americanized spin because audiences are too lazy to read subtitles. That still should not diminish the incredible work that Gyllenhaal brings. His performance is strong, possibly some of his best work since Nightcrawler, as his body language shakes, his temper boils over, and his solo work proves he can act in just about any scenario.

The third act of The Guilty is where Joe’s backstory and true reasoning for why he’s been reprimanded to a desk becomes apparent. It’s in that slow crescendo, deliberate pacing of the phone calls, and paired work of Gyllenhaal with Fuqua’s compact direction, making The Guilty thrilling from beginning to end. Similar to their work together on Southpaw, this is an actor and a director getting back into the ring, sparring in the excellent way two artists can collaborate. The Guilty has all the things you need to make it a must-see.



Written by: Leo Brady

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