The Guilty: TIFF ’21 Review

The Guilty image of Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) sitting at 911 dispatch center

The Guilty, directed by Antoine Fuqua, is an American remake of a 2018 Danish film of the same name. With a screenplay written by Nic Pizzolatto and the original screenplay by Gustav Möller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen, the film follows Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), assigned to 911 dispatch pending a trial, as he races against time to save a kidnapped woman who calls in. Despite copaganda elements, The Guilty is a fraught, riveting movie with dynamic acting and overarching themes of systemic issues, provided you haven’t seen the original.

Joe Baylor is a jerk. That’s the tamest word that can describe him. He’s past curt and lives in rudeness as he smirks and talks down to the individuals calling 911 dispatch. Early on, we learn via a personal call from an LA Times journalist that Joe has a court case that begins the next day. Although we do not discover the nature of the case, we can surmise that Joe is an ill-fit for protecting and serving. But when an abducted woman, Emily (Riley Keough), calls for assistance, Joe does his damnedest to rescue her. 

Copaganda Character But Deft Acting & Directing

The Guilty image of Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) staring at his reflection in a bathroom mirror.

The copaganda parts in The Guilty reside in Joe Baylor himself. The attempt to see Joe Baylor, a cop, as a human is the latest in a long history of humanizing cops in films, shows, and documentaries. The issue with this continued attempt to garner viewer sympathy is that it’s disingenuous. People see police as people. On the flip side, cops view people they encounter as less than, and that sentiment runs along race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender lines. But the The Guilty doesn’t shy from holding Joe accountable. Joe’s determination that he knows what’s best raises the stakes in an already harrowing situation. 

Jake Gyllenhaal commands the scenes. He looks harried, anxious, and a bundle of anger and nerves. Unsurprising, given he has a trial the next day for an incident on the job. It’s a challenge to hold tension in a film that takes place in one location—only three movies spring to my mind: 12 Angry Men, Hard Candy and Djinn. There need to be high stakes and gripping chemistry. The Guilty has that thanks to Gyllenhaal and Riley Keough. Each time Riley’s character, Emily, speaks to Joe, her fear is palpable.

Another stand out performance in The Guilty is Christiana Montoya, who plays Abby, Emily’s six-year-old daughter. Audiences’ hearts will shatter each time they hear her tremulous sadness and confusion. The direction elevates the emotions because viewers experience it as Jake Gyllenhaal’s Joe does. Antoine Fuqua understands how to maintain a tight film. 

Who Is The Guilty? Perhaps Everyone

The Guilty trailer from Netflix on Youtube

The Guilty is a dynamic, fraught story despite its enclosed setting and deals with issues of accountability. The guilty is both the individual and the collective. A system that does not fund care for people suffering from addictions, disabilities, and mental health issues creates a cycle of harm. The government in the U.S. pay billions of dollars for the military, company handouts, police, and of course, the money to pay out for lawsuits against police corruption. Yet lack that energy to provide funds for healthcare, schools, or anything that would positively impact millions. 

The Guilty condemns a system that fails the most vulnerable among us as though that is its overarching job. And perhaps it is. But a system is made up of people, and people choose a system. So this failure rests on all of us; although, to quote V from V for Vendetta, ”some are more culpable than others.” The Guilty keeps a frantic energy, thanks to phenomenal directing and Gyllenhaal and Keough’s performances.

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