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TIFF 21: ‘The Guilty’ Has Its Moments But Is A Lackluster Remake – Review

For many of us, the course of a single workday can be trying. For desk-duty police officer Joe Bayler (Jake Gyllenhaal), working at a 9-1-1 dispatch centre, trying would not be the appropriate word. After dealing with some calls that didn’t warrant an emergency call or dealing with some calls which Joe could describe as “textbook”, he receives a call that will change his life forever. 

As a wildfire rages in Los Angeles, Joe and everyone else at the dispatch centre are dealing with an extremely high volume of calls. One call, in particular, sets Joe on high alert and on edge. Dealing with callers in crisis is part of the job, but Joe soon takes one call from a kidnapped woman who is secretly trying to let him know her situation without giving her kidnapper any idea about who she’s really talking to. Knowing that the woman may not survive the night, Joe decides to do everything in his power to save her, even if that means revisiting his own demons – specifically what caused him to be on desk duty at the emergency dispatch centre and not out pounding the pavement with other law enforcement officers.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Bayler in The Guilty.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Bayler in The Guilty. (Courtesy of Glen Wilson/NETFLIX © 2021.)

The Guilty reunites Gyllenhaal with his Southpaw director, Antoine Fuqua, and together, the pair are a force. Much like Southpaw and his other roles, Gyllenhaal gives it his all. Gyllenhaal’s unhinged performance in The Guilty is one of his best and one of the reasons that as a viewer, you’ll likely find yourself committed to seeing the film through. Gyllenhaal’s performance coupled with the script makes for an uneasy, tension-filled film that leaves one with a sense of feeling trapped. There is no escape from the dispatch centre and with the plethora of calls coming in due to the wildfire and everything else, you will feel on-edge for the majority of the movie. 

The setup for The Guilty is undoubtedly a good one and every interaction that Gyllenhaal’s character has with various callers, other emergency service responders and his colleagues at the 9-1-1 dispatch centre each create a very specific atmosphere. Not only will it likely make you feel uneasy at times, but there is also no shortage of chaos which further adds to the tension as it builds up during the movie. This is multiplied exponentially by the fact that you never see the people that Gyllenhaal’s Joe interacts with. It is just a flurry of phone calls and audio that can be triggering (screaming, yelling, items breaking, etc.). However, this doesn’t mean the film is free from missteps. While Gyllenhaal showcases one of his best performances, the subtlety found in the original 2018 film was lacking in this rendition. 

Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Bayler in The Guilty. (Courtesy of NETFLIX © 2021.)

For those who are unaware, The Guilty is the American remake of the Danish film of the same name. And although some of the elements remain the same, one thing that doesn’t is the quiet cunning of the man on the other end of the dispatch line. This is a man tasked with helping others “to serve and protect” and also aids people in getting the assistance they require during various accidents and traumatic incidents. However, something that he’s done has put him in the emergency dispatch centre and that brings its own tension to the film. But in the Netflix version of the film, most of that is lost to the viewer. Near the beginning, the audience knows that Gyllenhaal’s Joe is in the dispatch centre for distressing reasons and with that, a lot of the quiet insidiousness that was part of Gustav Möller’s version of the film was lost. 

Due to this, the ending of this version of The Guilty was very much a write-off for me. In order to not give anything away, I will just have to say that it did not sit well with my spirit. It was almost as if the ending asked for compassion and forgiveness which was not at all earned from the film’s protagonist. In addition, one should not do the right thing or apologize expecting that forgiveness will be given. It is up to the injured party to decide what they will do with that in the end. So, while The Guilty has a lot going for it (especially the performances from Gyllenhaal and the voice cast), this ending was just something that I couldn’t wrap my head around or get past. 

Rating: 6.5/10

The Guilty premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11 and will begin streaming exclusively on Netflix on September 24.

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