In the picture

October 17, 2021

Jake Gyllenhaal impressively carries the tense drama in the single-location thriller, The Guilty.

In the picture

The Guilty   ☆☆☆

Staring:Jake Gyllenhaal, Christina Vidal, and Adrian Martinez; voices: Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough, Eli Goree, Da‘Vine Joy Randolph, Paul Dano, and Peter Sarsgaard

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Tagline: Listen carefully.

Colin Farrell spent much of Phone Booth talking on the telephone while confined to a call box. Ryan Reynolds, meanwhile, made the most of a Blackberry while stuck in a wooden coffin for the entirety of Buried. And Tom Hardy spent all of Locke in a car, driving from Birmingham to London while making dozens of phone calls as his life imploded around him. Now it’s Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn to follow in their footsteps and give us another talking-on-the-phone-while-confined-to-a-location thriller in The Guilty, the remake of a Danish flick that offers plenty of tension, even if its basic setup does feel a little familiar.

Gyllenhaal portrays Joe Baylor, a troubled police officer who has been demoted to a call dispatch desk while he awaits a hearing for a prior transgression. His personal life is in turmoil; he clearly has anger management issues; his asthma is acting up because of the wildfires in the area; and things are about to get even more rough for him.

A few random calls into the night, Joe gets an emergency call from a woman named Emily (Riley Keough) who, it soon starts to seem, has been abducted and is signalling for help. As Joe tries to get a handle on the woman’s predicament and send help to those in peril, his own demons begin to catch up with him. The pressure builds, and we get a better sense of the protagonist’s shortcomings, the offence that got him suspended from his job, and the gravity of his actions.

The Guilty remains firmly in Gyllenhaal’s capable hands from start to finish. We stay right by his side – always in the call centre, always focused on him – as he tries to help a stranger while unravelling in the process. He is primarily the only character we get to see. Aside from a few colleagues who make brief appearances, most of the film’s characters remain off-screen; we only hear their voices via their phone conversations with the protagonist, although we do get to know them fairly well as a clearer picture emerges of what is actually going on.

The fact that it’s not easy to root for Joe sometimes gets in the way of the emotional impact the story is trying to have. And the story delivers at least one unsatisfying turn towards the end that takes away from some of the film’s palpable darkness. Still, The Guilty definitely remains worth a watch.

Its one-man, one-location conceit may be familiar, but the film makes fairly good use of the setup and amps up the tension with each passing minute. Even if you end up having a quibble or two with some of its developments, its parallel arcs of guilt and accountability are still very likely to keep you riveted to the drama for its hour and a half running time.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
*** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

In the picture