The Guilty manages to weave a strong thriller from its bottled premise.
The Guilty (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on October 15, 2021
Rating 3.5 /5
Antoine Fuqua is a director best known for his gritty pictures of explosion action, spanning from the likes of Olympus Has Fallen to The Equalizer. The Guilty showcases how he can showcase just as much intensity when he has his characters trapped, making use of no gunfire or explosions. Filmed during the Covid-19 pandemic, this picture is a testament to just how much Fuqua can accomplish with so little.
The entire film takes place inside an LAPD police station call center. Among the officers taking calls is Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal). As the night progresses, Joe’s history slowly comes about. We know he is facing issues with a divorce where he’s struggling to fight for custody of his daughter. We know he’s had an altercation in the field that has lowered his rank among his officers. He’s also being relentlessly pursued by the press for a statement on an incident he was involved with.
Trying to take his mind off his own issues, Joe focuses on work. The night of calls proceeds with a semi-standard event involving a prostitute and a patron. But then a frightening call comes in. There’s a woman, Emily (Riley Keough), calling from a car. Her ex-husband Henry (Peter Sarsgaard) is with her. She’s crying. She fears for her life and the life of her kids. Not desiring to see another parent lose her kids, Joe sticks with this call to prevent any dangers this woman may face.
Doing so is not going to be an easy case. He has little evidence to go on and relies on the woman’s coded calls amid someone who has taken her hostage for clues. Slowly, the case reveals more with Joe glued to the phone and desperate for answers. But the more desperate for answers Joe becomes, the more mistakes he may make as he refuses to give up on this incident until the woman and her kids are safe.
Throughout the film, Joe’s case is hindered by other calls coming into the station, each one making him all the more agitated. One of the funniest, providing a small bit of relief from the intensity, is Bill Burr as a nightclub owner calling about a fight at his establishment. In typical Burr fashion, the owner is an angry mess who has no time for anyone, quickly refusing the help of Joe and cursing at him over the phone. Another break from the tension (or perhaps even an increase) is a cyclist who calls in about hurting his knee and asking for an ambulance. Joe, desperate for Emily to call him back, angrily tells the cyclist to call for an Uber and stop wasting his time.
The film is an American remake of the Danish thriller by the same name. Compared to how this picture stacks up, this version feels very much like the original but with a placement in America, similar to that of Let Me In or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. That being said, it does feature another fantastic performance by Jake Gyllenhaal in all his bitter displays of emotion that shoot forth, even when being confined to one location and reduced to contact over the phone. He devours this picture quite well by working with so little, thanks to Fuqua’s strong direction.
The Guilty manages to weave a strong thriller from its bottled premise. The acting, by those both present and voice only, is perfectly tense and the editing is brisk enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. For being so limited in location, it’s a film that grips from the first scene and never let's go, where the ringing of a phone system is enough to make you bite your finger in suspense.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.