Synopsis: A demoted police officer assigned to a call dispatch desk is conflicted when he receives an emergency phone call from a kidnapped woman.
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Bill Burr, Gillian Zinser, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Christina Vidal
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: American remakes of foreign films are a strange beast indeed, especially when the original is one you still are recommending to people when the English version is released for a wide audience. That’s the dilemma I face when a film like The Guilty arrives for its limited theatrical run and streaming debut on Netflix. Here’s a smart, compact, film from the slick streaming service by a popular director (Antoine Fuqua) with an enhanced screenplay courtesy of an in-demand writer known for their pot-boilers (True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto) and starring a red-hot actor (Jake Gyllenhaal) who always attracts attention in any project he attaches himself to. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Of course. The tiny wrinkle is that they’ve remade a 2018 film from Denmark still going strong (on Hulu) and while the 2021 has all the right players, does it improve the game?
At a 911 call center, LAPD officer Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal, End of Watch) is nearing the end of his shift as the wildfires in the Hollywood Hills rages on nearby. Relegated to a desk job as he waits on a trial for something we’ll learn more about as the 91 minutes tick away, Joe is a hot-tempered live wire…not a perfect match for the charged atmosphere he’s working in. In between phone calls to his estranged wife, he receives a call from a teary woman (Riley Keough, The Lodge) who appears to be talking to a small child. Eventually realizing the call to a “child” is a ruse to whomever she is with, Joe confirms the woman has been kidnapped and launches into a one-man mission to save her and reunite her with her children.
To say more of the film might give away one or two of the twists and turns present in the original and thankfully retained here. It’s nice to see that Pizzolatto has kept a hold of much of the solid structure installed by original screenwriters Emil Nygaard Albertsen & Gustav Möller, adding small tweaks for its transport to America along the way. Adding in the pressure of the California fires ups the ante for making Joe such a man on a solo mission, because much of the force is busy attending to that devastation and danger.
Where you have to look at remakes is how they diverge from the initial film and then make your comparisons and as strong as the team is on the 2021 take, it can’t quite make it over the bar set so high by the 2018 Danish thriller. The beauty of the previous film is that it was so simple a set-up which made the events unfolding so breathless and terrible all at once. Here, everything is just awful all around so things start at level 10 and just have nowhere to go. Fuqua and Pizzolatto remade The Magnificent Seven and, while no classic or in danger of besting the original, it had some fun moments of ingenuity that boosted a few of the characters in interesting ways. Pizzolatto isn’t as successful here with the way they’ve added physical burdens to Baylor to go along with the emotional weight he’s carrying inside. This is especially true in a strangely self-indulgent coda, not present in 2018, that stretches on far too long and is meant to turn our attention from the story to Gyllenhaal’s performance…and that doesn’t feel right. It feels show pony chic and it cheapens the mood.
The Guilty would actually have made a wonderful audiobook or podcast experience since so much of it is just Gyllenhaal onscreen talking to disembodied voices. Keep your ears open and see if you can put some voices with the famous faces of actors and comedians that pop up throughout. By all means, do yourself a favor and watch both films to compare but I’d still give my overall greenlight to the 2018 entry which does a better job with portraying the inner turmoil going on below the surface of the emergency operator and the way that his intervention might wind up doing more harm than good.