REVIEW: The Guilty (2021)

Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Baylor in Antoine Fuqua’s American version of THE GUILTY — Photo: Netflix.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua — Screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto.

Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty, written by True Detective-creator Nic Pizzolatto, is an American remake of the 2018 Danish single-location thriller Den Skyldige, which was then directed by Gustav Möller. The film follows Joe Baylor (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who is an agitated LAPD officer with a troubled past, while he is at a 911 call center. Though he is initially largely uninterested at the call center, he suddenly ‘wakes up’ when a distressed woman calls him and says she is being abducted by her ex-husband. From his computer and telephone, Joe must now try to figure out what is happening and try to get law enforcement to her position before it is too late.

It is always strange to watch remakes of films that you really like. It is even stranger to watch remakes of films that you really like, when the original film is from your native country and the remake has repurposed the story for American audiences. I have family members that think the original Danish single-location thriller — and films like it — are frustrating and almost like watching paint dry. But I was, frankly, a big fan of the original Danish film, and I am open to these types of films. For example, I think that Steven Knight’s Locke is a masterpiece.

Because I have so much admiration for the original Danish film, I had, sort of, tried to ignore the remake even though it stars Jake Gyllenhaal, one of my favorite actors. But, on the day that the trailer for Michael Bay’s remake of the Danish film Ambulancen was released (Bay’s Ambulance will also star Gyllenhaal, and it will be Gyllenhaal’s third remake of a Danish film after Jim Sheridan’s Brothers and this film), I decided that it was finally time to check out what Antoine Fuqua and Jake Gyllenhaal had decided to do with the Danish hit.

The answer is, honestly, not all that much of interest. Storywise, The Guilty is almost a beat-for-beat remake of Den Skyldige. Names are changed, the locations are obviously different, but, in general, it is the same movie. And when it isn’t, it is due to some Americanization or Hollywoodizing of the Danish original film. The ending is softened significantly, which shocked me, and the addition of the California wildfires is a distracting element, as is the overly busy call center (as well as some of its strong voice cast). I was also really disappointed by the fact that the American remake is not really a single-location thriller as it includes short clips from outside of its primary location. I wish the American remake would’ve shown the restraint to just rely on the sound design, the performances, and audiences’ imaginations, which the Danish film did.

The best thing about the remake is, undoubtedly, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. It should be said, though, that Jakob Cedergren, who played the main character in the Danish film, also delivered a fantastic performance. Jake Gyllenhaal’s assured, committed, and sometimes explosive and exhausted performance holds the film together. I will also say that I think that the characterization of the main character is a little bit different in the remake.

Though it is filled with tension, it is difficult for me, as I already know the twists and turns (since the remake follows the plot of the original film so strictly), to gauge whether or not the film’s revelations are as shocking in this film as they were in the original, but I think it will be an engrossing film for people who are unfamiliar with the Danish film (but those who are familiar with the Danish film probably won’t get a lot out of the remake). Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty is a very Americanized and yet uninventive remake of a fantastic Danish single-location thriller. I think it would’ve been better if it had shown the same restraint that the original Danish film did, but Gyllenhaal’s committed performance helps to make the American remake a decent call center thriller. Let’s hope that it’ll make Americans interested in watching the original Danish film some day.

7.2 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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