The Guilty

Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) doesn’t seem at all well suited to his job as a 911 dispatcher, not only showing little empathy for distressed callers, but offering his negative personal judgments.  We will learn why when a couple of phone calls – one from a reporter, another from his Sergeant, Bill Miller (voice of Ethan Hawke) – reveal that he is a temporarily demoted police officer.  But there is one caller, Emily Lighton (voice of Riley Keough), whose inability to talk signals just how dire her situation is and in his determination to save her, Joe throws protocol out the window, acting as detective, judge and jury in “The Guilty.”

Laura's Review: B-

Director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "The Equalizer 2") and screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto (HBO's 'True Detective') make two major changes in their adaptation of the 2018 Oscar nominated Danish film, keeping all the action entirely on Baylor within his call center and adding obstacles with an ongoing California wildfire.  But it is with some of their smaller changes that their film loses a lot of the power of the original, the filmmakers vague on the reason Joe landed in that call center to begin with and why he’s being dogged by a reporter.  And while Gyllenhaal acts the hell out of the role, he overdoes it, going from 0 to 60 on his character’s rage meter so quickly he leaves no room for escalation.  This version of “The Guilty” relies more on the story’s twist than the underlying character traits that lead to it, making it likely to appeal more to those who haven’t seen the Danish film.

With the camera always on Joe or looking over his shoulder at his screen or circling around him, we observe him telling an addict that he brought his problems on himself and mocking a man robbed by a hooker.  Subdued outgoing calls to Jess (voice of Gillian Zinser) in order to say goodnight to his young daughter are rebuffed, but give some insight into just why Joe becomes so involved with the terrified young mother who is funneled through to him.  Joe is ready to disengage with his usual abruptness when he gets no coherent information from Emily until, that is, he hears a man’s voice in the background.  Quickly switching to no nonsense yes or no questions, Joe is able to determine he has a kidnapping victim on his hands, a woman traveling down the highway pretending to speak with her young daughter at home.  The man is Henry Fisher (voice of Peter Sarsgaard), her daughter’s father, and he is driving a white van.

Joe immediately contacts a CHP Dispatcher (voice of Da'Vine Joy Randolph) asking for a trooper to look for the van, but his barked orders are not well received.  He’ll pull in favors, calling back his Sergeant when she refuses to dispatch a wellness check on Abby (voice of Christiana Montoya) and her infant brother, and the cop, Rick (Eli Goree, "One Night in Miami"), set to testify for him to illegally gain access to Henry’s home.

While the Danish original maintained cinematic interest, Fuqua’s movie would work just as well as a radio play, the only dramatic visuals the fires burning on call center screens (Gyllenhaal’s sporadic coughing alludes to this as well, but as his is the only character doing this it becomes an annoying distraction).  Suspense is inherent in the situation, escalated whenever Emily’s calls are dropped, but whenever a colleague interrupts to reconnect Joe, he erupts.  This is a man clearly unsuited to his job.  When we finally hear from Henry, the filmmakers lay things on with a trowel.  The vocal cast is solid across the board, Randolph the most successful creating a character.  Notables like Paul Dano and Bill Burr are utilized as single callers.

The Danish version of this film delivers a shock, but leaves us contemplating the character foibles at its center.  Fuqua has never been accused of subtlety and delivers more of a thrill ride with a crash landing.


Robin's Review: C+

Officer Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) is doing administrative 911 duty at Emergency Services in fire-threatened LA as he awaits his Internal Affairs hearing the next morning. He gets a call from a distraught-sounding woman who calls him “sweetheart.” Something is amiss, he knows, and realizes that she is a kidnap victim and begins to set the wheels into motion to rescue her in “The Guilty.”

The 2018 Danish original is a scant five minutes shorter than Antoine Fuqua’s remake, from the screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto adapted from the first (by Gustav Moller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen). But, the reimagining seems a lot longer and less taut and tension-building.
The story is about one-man’s perspective of a crime that is taking place on the other end of the 911 line. Joe, through the yes and no answers to his questions from the abducted victim, Joe pieces together the crime in play and gets events in motion to solve that crime and save the victim. How he goes about tracking the woman, using cell technology, and mustering the overly taxed police force (there are raging wild fires going on nearby) to do the legwork, makes for a decent police procedural.

But, things do not go quite the way expected and that is how the revelations of the film unfold. I will leave it at that as the bulk of the story is about the police procedural, but with an underlying psychological tension that focuses on Joe and why he is doing 911 duty.

I am trying to review the remake of “The Guilty” on its own merits but, in my head, I keep comparing it to the original. Where the earlier film was tightly done with its steadily building tension and hard realizations, involving me with the main character, the remake not so much. Though it adheres to the nuts and bolts of the first it does not achieve the original’s appeal.

Netflix opens "The Guilty" in theaters on 9/24/21 and on Netflix on 10/1/21.