Movie Review: The Guilty (2021)

I feel sorry for Jake Gyllenhall. He’s trying so hard to win an Oscar. The one and only time he was nominated for the award was in 2006 for his performance in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. (He lost to George Clooney for his performance in SYRIANA.) Since then, he’s taken on a variety of film roles that showcase his talent and commitment to the acting craft. While many of his films have done well at the box office with Gyllenhall receiving high praise from critics, the love hasn’t flowed from the Academy’s nominating committee. Gyllenhall is now trying his luck with THE GUILTY, directed by Antoine Fuqua, whom he worked with in the 2015 boxing drama, SOUTHPAW.

In THE GUILTY, Gyllenhall plays Joe Baylor, a police officer who is working the late shift on an emergency call dispatch desk. We quickly learn that this is a temporary situation for Baylor. It seems that he’s been assigned to desk duty while his court case, which is scheduled for the next day, gets resolved. In the course of his work that evening, Baylor receives an emergency call from a woman (voiced by Riley Keough, THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME) who talks to him as if he is her young daughter. He determines that she has been kidnapped by her estranged husband and he races against time to get her rescued before any harm is done to her. As events unfold, Baylor comes to understand that the woman’s situation isn’t all that she’s made it out to be. That revelation causes Baylor to reassess his own situation.

THE GUILTY is based on a 2018 Danish film of the same name (DEN SKYLDIGE). If you’ve seen the Danish film, you don’t need to watch this version. With the exception of a change of location (Copenhagen to Los Angeles), a change of weather (rain to forest fires) and the addition of two bookended scenes, both of which add nothing to the story, THE GUILTY is word-for-word, beat-for-beat, the same film but in English. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that we learn rather quickly in this version that Baylor is quite the hot-headed a-hole. That knowledge not only makes it hard to sympathize with the man, unlike his Danish counterpart, but it reveals too much of what’s to come at the climax. Why do American audiences need to be hit over the head in order to understand a character’s motivation? Perhaps the biggest problem with the film lies with Gyllenhall’s performance though. There is so much acting going on, which takes away the film’s tension. Fuqua needed to have him dial it down a few notches.

The film premiered a few weeks ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s currently having a limited run in the US before landing on Netflix on October 1st. I’m reminded of South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s acceptance speech at the Oscars. He said, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”. THE GUILTY is a perfect example of that. Check out the Danish version as it’s a much better film than this.

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