Film Review: The Guilty
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Nine Stories Productions and Fuqua Films
Streaming on Netflix 10.01
There are some directors whose name on a film always spurs some level of interest for me. Antoine Fuqua, the director of The Guilty, is one of them. But that doesn’t always mean that they can be relied upon to deliver a good movie. Fuqua’s career has probably had more big misses than hits, the last being the dreadful Infinite just earlier this year.
The Guilty takes place over the course of a single morning in a 9-1-1 dispatch call center. Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), a police officer, suspended while under investigation after a serious incident, is working as a call operator, a job he finds to be tedious and beneath him. But when Baylor gets a call from a woman named Emily (voiced by Riley Keough, Logan Lucky) who’s been abducted, his instincts as an officer kick in and he does everything he can to try to find her and keep her alive. But as the night progresses and tension levels rise, it becomes all too clear that everything is more complicated than Baylor imagines.
The Guilty is Fuqua’s overall strongest film since The Equalizer in 2014, with tight pacing, plenty of claustrophobic atmosphere and impeccable editing by Jason Ballantine (The Great Gatsby, It). Fuqua knows how to execute a slow build of suspense well, and some of the credit goes to Nic Pizzolatto—the True Detective scribe has a gift for smart dialogue. While The Guilty is a remake of Gustav Möller‘s 2018 Danish-language film, Den skyldige, Pizzolatto and Fuqua tout clever, highly topical American story elements, such as adding the complication of the California wildfires.
If there’s one person who deserves kudos above all others for the film working, however, it’s Gyllenhaal, the producer/star who brought Fuqua to the project and who gives an intense and emotionally charged performance which anchors the film. Gyllenhaal brings the kind of brash, roguish, young-hero-cop quality that Keanu Reeves had in Speed, but the character ends up having a lot more edge. It’s a daring performance that could possibly be a dark horse contender for an Oscar nomination.
Gyllenhaal is ably supported by Keough, who gives a riveting and nuanced performance despite never being seen onscreen. So do the rest of the voice cast, which includes Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Bill Burr and Paul Dano. And if there’s someone who outshines even Gyllenhaal, it’s young Christiana Montoya (A Place in the Field) as the voice of Abby, Emily’s daughter.
The Guilty isn’t a perfect film, but as with all minimalist films made quickly during the pandemic, it arguably makes the best use of the restrictions, turning them into strengths rather than weaknesses. It does have some pretty disturbing elements, and I’m including a trigger warning: If you are a sensitive parent who can’t handle anything that involves children in peril, you might want to approach this one with some degree of caution. Still, The Guilty is a satisfying thriller that dares to tackle some timely themes. It’s a nice bounceback piece for Fuqua, and it gets a recommendation from me. –Patrick Gibbs