Netflix’s latest crime-thriller The Guilty (a remake of the 2018Danish film of the same name)stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Baylor, an LA police officer, who spends a night taking calls at a 911 call centre. The film takes place over the course of a single shift, with Joe being one of the very few characters actually seen – most of the film’s story happens through phone calls and conversation.
Early on, The Guilty sets up two mysteries – one regarding an incident that occurred while Joe was on duty that he is awaiting trial for, and the other regarding a kidnapped woman named Emily who calls 911. Joe very intensely plunges into resolving the latter as a means of escaping from the former, but his fiery temper and instability threaten to derail everything.
Gyllenhaal is excellent – and he ought to be, as he’s practically all the audience sees – as Baylor, and The Guilty also boasts an impressive voice cast, with Riley Keough and Peter Sarsgaard voicing Emily and her ex-husband Henry, respectively. The film’s story is filled with twists, turns, and revelations that are occasionally predictable but no less harrowing for it – the slow realisation of exactly what’s going on is achieved expertly by director Antoine Fuqua, who directed the film from inside a van.
The Guilty does contain some pretty dark subject matter, but it handles it all with reasonable sensitivity. The reveal of Joe’s crime is shocking, but not entirely unexpected – he’s clearly a dangerous man at the beginning of the film, with an explosive temper and a blatant disregard for the rules and the feelings of others – but it treads on a raw societal nerve that has caused (and will likely continue to cause) some discussion about the film’s intention.
For a film localised within one location with only one actor visible, The Guilty also manages to achieve significant depth. It’s never too heavy handed though, instead content to allow its audience to extrapolate details from realistic conversations, and that makes The Guilty more enjoyable and more rewarding.
The Guilty is an excellent choice for any fans of crime-thrillers or dark drama, and Gyllenhaal’s subtly unsettling performance as the troubled Joe Baylor is one that isn’t easy to forget. Its narrative twists make for a gripping story that forces its characters to re-examine their own prejudices and perceptions, reassessing their own actions as the story wears on. It’s a concise film (a mere 90 minutes long), which only makes its ability to grab its audience all the more impressive.
Summary: A tense and entirely self-contained narrative that is deeply harrowing, The Guilty is a great watch for fans of dark crime-thrillers.
Highlight: The slow realisation of the film’s truth is achieved masterfully, with multiple stories paying off realistically – all while Jake Gyllenhaal takes phone calls.