The Guilty is the American remake of the excellent same-named 2018 Dutch thriller. This version, directed by Antoine Fuqua, stays extremely faithful to the source material, although a couple of the themes are perhaps spelled out a bit more obviously. If you've seen the original, you'll likely enjoy this one, too, although some of the suspense will be lessened from knowing what happens in advance. If you haven't seen the original, prepare to be blown away by the unpredictable avenues the plot goes down.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Joe Baylor, a cop who has been demoted to working the 911 call center for reasons that are initially unclear. One day, a call comes through from a distraught woman named Emily (Riley Keough). She chooses her words carefully, but Joe is able to surmise that she's been abducted by her ex-husband. It also comes out that their two young children have been left home alone. An emotional Joe immediately steps over the boundaries, shirking the usual protocol in an effort to save her and protect the kids.
What sets The Guilty apart from most other thrillers is that it all takes place in a single location. Everything unfolds within that call center, aside from two or three brief outside shots that have distractingly been thrown in. Lacking traditional action, the story hones in on Joe's dilemma. He obviously feels – as the title implies – guilty about the event that got him demoted, and so he views the chance to help Emily and her kids as a way of redeeming himself. Tension comes from watching him become increasingly desperate as the situation spirals out of control in ways he could not have imagined. That, in turn, spurs him to step further outside the rules of his job.
In other words, the whole thing rests on Jake Gyllenhaal's shoulders. He's the perfect actor for this role – smart, expressive, and capable of suggesting emotions that his characters choose not to openly acknowledge. The actor never needs words to outright explain Joe's choices. We can see from watching him how the compulsion grows in his mind, clouding his judgment. Few actors possess the magnetism to be the only person front-and-center for 90 minutes. Gyllenhaal is one of them.
The screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) maintains the direct, no-frills approach of the original. It really is one guy on the phone the entire time, with sharp dialogue used to paint a picture in our minds and therefore create tension. For his part, Fuqua wisely doesn't feel the need to add unnecessary showiness. He keeps things streamlined, which is the exact right approach for the concept.
If there's a significant difference between the Dutch version and this version, it's that the Dutch film does more to imply that its central character has a fundamental personality disorder that has caused his downfall. The American version paints Joe as more of a victim of circumstance, depressed by divorce and other personal problems. Either one is worth seeing, though. Guided by Jake Gyllenhaal's superb performance, The Guilty is a fast-paced, suspenseful picture that shrewdly doesn't try to fix what isn't broken. It's a remake that works.
Note: The Guilty is receiving a limited theatrical release starting September 24, and will then debut on Netflix October 1. For more information, please visit the film's official Netflix page.
out of four
The Guilty is rated R for language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.