The Guilty is an expertly crafted, endlessly exciting confined thriller that offers plenty of interesting insight into the way our words affect those around us.
Antoine Fuqua is the type of filmmaker whose name comes with a certain expectation. Whether it’s Training Day, Southpaw or Olympus Has Fallen, there’s something surprisingly consistent about his body of work so far – and The Guilty is another great addition to this list. It’s a thrilling, gripping rollercoaster of emotions and surprises, packed neatly into a short 90 minute runtime that keeps the film feeling fresh and compelling throughout. Led by an astoundingly unleashed Jake Gyllenhaal, the film makes it almost impossible to divert your attention for a single second as the unbelievable story unfolds in the most unpredictable and surprising ways, making for an entirely engaging and captivating watch.
Based on the 2018 Danish feature of the same name, the film follows a seemingly endless day in the life of dispatch operator Joe Bayer (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he attempts to navigate his way through a particularly distressing 911 call from a woman (Riley Keough) who claims to have been abducted . We watch Bayer descend into a frenzied meltdown as the case begins to take its toll on him, and he becomes desperate to save the life of this mysterious woman – all the while dealing with the fallout of a previous case that’s coming back to haunt him. The real secret of the film is in the small details: whether it’s the intricate sound design, the expertly restrained performances or the precisely crisp cinematography, everything comes together to create a totally immersive experience that draws the audience deep into the film and creates a strong relatability to the central characters – despite never even seeing most of their faces.
When it comes to thrillers such as these, the main factor that dictates their success or failure is whether or not they can actually evoke those thrilling, intense emotions within the audience. The Guilty does this perfectly, using an effective combination of its tension-fuelled narrative and unsettling atmosphere to maintain those levels of emotion throughout. Much like its original Danish counterpart, the film relies heavily on technical precision to keep the audience on edge – whether it’s the startling ringing of a telephone, the slight flash of a light or the mumbled chatting of others nearby, everything comes together to form a gripping and immersive thrill-ride that never relents.
The best part about The Guilty, without question, is Jake Gyllenhaal’s emotionally driven performance that binds the story together perfectly. He carefully navigates a complex, layered character with equal parts recklessness and introspection. It’s one of his best performances to date – which is extremely high praise – and it brings a whole new level of empathy and intrigue to the already compelling narrative by making us truly care about the fate of his character. Of course, the thoughtful screenplay from Nic Pizzolatto should also be credited for creating such an interesting and absorbing character, but it’s Gyllenhaal’s expertly tuned performance that truly brings Joe Bayer to life and elevates his narrative.
Despite its promotion as a rousing thriller, there is also an emotional and poignant side to The Guilty that plays through its central characters and the way that they respond to the situation they’re in. Joe is a broken man, in many senses of the word. His mental and physical health is worsening day by day as a result of his stressful job, and his family life is falling apart around him. Emily, the woman on the other end of the phone, is equally broken in different ways. She finds herself fighting to protect herself and her family, and we see the dark effect that this has on her mind – yet, in the midst of all this pain, the two find solace and comfort in each other, and The Guilty explores this concept deeply. It examines the effect of social relationships on mental health and takes an empathetic and comforting approach towards the human condition, all whilst providing a high-octane thriller first and foremost. It’s refreshing to see this tackled in this sort of film, and adds an even deeper pathos to the film’s statement that ‘broken people fix broken people’.
For me, The Guilty was such a welcome surprise. So much more than just the confined thriller that it promises, whilst still delivering on those tropes and interactions that we expect to see in these types of movies. Both a critical examination of what it means to be human and how our words affect the lives of those around us, and an action-packed thrill ride from start to finish. The Guilty is bound to be a hit with both casual audiences and critics alike, and counts as another huge win for both Fuqua and Gyllenhaal.
The Guilty will be released on Netflix October 1, 2021.