TIFF 2021: ‘The Guilty’ Is a Remake Done Right

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The Guilty

The Guilty is a Netflix Original Film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Nic Pizzolatto. It is based on the 2018 Danish film of the same name by Gustav Moller. Police officer Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) has been placed on 911 duty, answering calls from citizens as a wildfire ravages California. However, he soon receives a call from a woman named Emily (Riley Keough) who is attempting to escape her abusive husband (Peter Sarsgaard). As Joe attempts to get Emily to safety, details begin to emerge about the circumstances that led to his current situation and Emily’s home life.

Fuqua shot the movie last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the entirety of the film taking place in a police call center over the course of a single morning. Most films that have dealt with COVID complications have been either surprisingly well crafted-see I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking)-or slapdash opportunistic cash grabs like Songbird. The Guilty thankfully falls into the former category courtesy of production designer Peter Wenham and cinematographer Maz Makhani. Wenham makes the call center feel rather small and boxed in, while Makhani lights it in cool blues-with the occasional red flashing light whenever Joe takes a call or the pale white of the bathroom where the film first begins. The biggest detail is a row of television screens that show the ongoing blaze, bringing new meaning to the phrase “hell on earth.”

The film also reunites Fuqua with previous collaborators including Gyllenhaal who starred in his boxing drama Southpaw, and Pizzolatto, who co-wrote the screenplay for Fuqua’s take on The Magnificent Seven in 2016. Pizzolatto hews fairly close to the original script by Moller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen while managing to make updates concerning the flaws in the police system and how taking the law into your own hands can go south. The script also knows how to build tension, as during the course of 90 minutes we learn more about Joe and Emily’s lives. There were twists that I never saw coming, but said twists happen to have the perfect setup and payoff.

Gyllenhaal is the nucleus around which the film revolves and as always he delivers. Joe Baylor is a man who has anger issues; he flips out on certain callers and even trashes his desk after a particularly tense call. And said anger issues have proven to wreak havoc on his professional and personal life, as the audience will soon learn. After the misfire of casting Mark Wahlberg in Infinite, I’m glad that Fuqua has centered this film around an actor with the necessary dramatic chops to carry a project of this magnitude. The supporting cast also turns in great vocal performances; Keough’s performance as Emily will melt even the hardest of hearts and there are other vocal performances sprinkled throughout the film-including a blink and you’ll miss it snippet from another Fuqua collaborator.

The Guilty is proof that not every remake of a film has to be a paint by numbers endeavor, thanks to a gripping performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and a script and direction that builds up tension at a steady pace. This film is definitely a left turn from Netflix’s usual fare, and I hope it finds a solid audience.

The Guilty had its worldwide premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It will premiere in select theaters on September 24th and be available to stream on Netflix on October 1st.

 


The Guilty (2021)
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

The Guilty is proof that not every remake of a film has to be a paint by numbers endeavor, thanks to a gripping performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and a script and direction that builds up tension at a steady pace. This film is definitely a left turn from Netflix’s usual fare, and I hope it finds a solid audience.