2021 is a year of twosomes for director Antoine Fuqua. His film Infinite had its theatrical release cancelled (Corona strikes again), and debuted on Paramount+ in the US (Amazon in the rest of the world). The less said about that title, the better, and it only poses the same old question: can Mark Wahlberg convey emotions yet, or does he still always just look like he’s walked into a room and smelled something unpleasant? (Spoiler alert: it’s still the latter). And now, mere weeks after this first release, Fuqua has delivered The Guilty, a remake of the 2018 Danish feature of the same name.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Joe Baylor, a Los Angeles police officer temporarily demoted to answering 911 calls due to a pending disciplinary matter. Joe has some boundary issues, and can’t help but be drawn into a call where a woman has apparently been kidnapped, using every trick in the book to play an active role in the case, resulting in some serious backseat policing.
For those who saw the Danish original, the American remake is redundant, seemingly existing as an exercise to access an audience with an aversion to subtitles. Although a direct comparison between the two will find Fuqua’s film lacking, it stands on its own feet steadily enough. The work is in fact remarkably solid, despite its minimal ingredients. The physical action is confined to Gyllenhaal on the phone in one room, on the phone in another room, and then in the bathroom (where he makes a phone call), which shouldn’t be as thrilling as it manages to be.
The movie squarely rests on Gyllenhaal’s capable shoulders, and he doesn’t disappoint. His Joe Baylor is all barely-concealed rage, channeled into attempts at gung ho heroism (by proxy), with anything else that attempts to grab his attention meeting with dispassionate detachment. Occasionally his energy levels seem disparate to those he’s on the phone with, as though the parts were recorded separately with little regard to how they’d sound alongside each other. Riley Keough, as the voice of kidnap victim Emily, often sounds like she’s in a different film altogether.
Fans of the Danish original will quite rightly skip the remake, as it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The uninitiated will find much to appreciate in this lean and muscular thriller, even when the carefully-maintained ebb and flow of the tension peters out towards the end, never to return.
The Guilty is released in UK cinemas from 24th September and on Netflix from 1st October 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Guilty here: