Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a LAPD detective who has been assigned to a 911 emergency call centre while awaiting trial. During a routine call, he encounters a woman (Riley Keough) who has been kidnapped by her ex-husband (Peter Sarsgaard). Unable to leave his station, Baylor becomes more unhinged as he tries his best to save her and navigate his own personality complexes in doing so...
Even though remakes are often made with the best of intentions, one has to wonder how in this day and age they're still being made. World cinema and the proliferation of streaming services means that you can easily access the original, compare it with the glossy remake, and very often come to the conclusion that so often plagues them - the original is better, and why was this even made in the first place? 'The Guilty' is one such example. Jake Gyllenhaal, who has always made canny choices when it comes to his career (that's not sarcastic!), leads this Netflix thriller based on a Danish movie from two years ago, called 'Den skyldige'. This time around, you've got Antoine Fuqua behind the camera, a who's-who cast that includes disparate names like Bill Burr, Paul Dano, Riley Keough, and Peter Sarsgaard.
To Gyllenhaal's credit, it says a lot about how compelling an actor he is that he's able to take this movie on his shoulders and it still kind of works. For 90 minutes, we're on calls with him as he struggles against the confines of his non-descript call centre, his own personal complexities with his wife and an upcoming trial, not to mention the disdain with which he treats the very task put before him. He's able to internalise all these things, and strategically fire them off whenever they're required. Likewise, the fact that this was made during the height of the pandemic feels irrelevant. It could have been easily made two years ago, or ten years ago, and it would still be the same. You can see that director Antoine Fuqua and writer Nic Pizzolatto are trying to blend together Hitchcockian twists and thrills with a tightly confined chamber drama, but the results sadly don't reach their ambition.
Despite giving it enough distance from the original, 'The Guilty' still compares unfavourably to it in that there are so many edges sanded down to make it palatable to a Netflix audience. Gyllenhaal, as mentioned, is giving it his all and he's never not trying his damnedest to sell the thing, but there's something just a little bit too pedestrian about it all. Antoine Fuqua, who directed the excellent 'Training Day', doesn't do anything imaginative with the concept. Admittedly, it's difficult to make a call centre seem cinematic and exciting, but you get the sense that another director might have taken the challenge and done something unique with it. Nic Pizzolatto's script has the necessary moral quandaries and conundrums, but it's never really anything exceptional. The voice cast is varied, yes, but you find yourself more often than not trying to identify who they are than actually caring about what they're saying.
Like the central character, there are good intentions in 'The Guilty' and it's trying its best to make something of itself and keep you invested and interested. You can see how it's supposed to work; that the audience will fill in the blanks and imagine horrors and sights beyond whatever the director and writer could come up with. But eventually, you realise that 'The Guilty' is relying on us to do the work for it, making the audience reach into its mind for something that isn't there and nothing on screen has inspired it. Ultimately, it becomes a lost cause because for whatever we can imagine, the filmmakers themselves haven't imagined anything original either.