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The Guilty TIFF Review


Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Written by: Nic Pizzolato

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal

Film Review by Robert Stayte



The Guilty (2018) was a great high concept thriller that managed to be intense and riveting despite it’s single location setting . Naturally, with any successful foreign film, it was nabbed for a remake. On the one hand it was handed to competent but unremarkable genre director Antoine Fuqua, on the other hand the lead role was given to Jake Gyllenhaal, who could carry a film about a man doing his taxes. Is The Guilty a worthy remake or totally redundant? Well, it’s somewhere in the middle.

Set in a wildfire ravaged California, Joe Bayler (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an LAPD police officer who has currently been demoted to taking emergency calls. He takes the call of Emily Lighton who has been kidnapped by her husband and is being kept in a moving van. Joe races against time to save her whilst dealing with his own issues.

Whilst there are quite a few differences, for the most part the overall story is the same as the original, which is a problem for a suspense thriller like this (knowing how the shoe will drop makes the shoe drop more predictable) and will result in the film playing better for those who have not seen the original. There could have been more chances taken with the narrative to make it different, particularly given how the themes of the story are arguably more relevant in America than in Copenhaagen, But the changes that are made do mostly work, particularly with the downright chaotic wildfire setting, giving Joe asthma, and increasing his personal drama.

As for those themes, the film’s handling of them is mixed. The police corruption angle cannot be a systemic criticism due to the intentionally limited focus, so it does not land with as much power as it could have, yet it still manages to balance empathy for Joe’s circumstance with criticism of his character. The mental illness part is hard to talk about without spoilers, but it walks a tightrope between cliché and empathy, and it’ll be up to the viewer what category it falls into.

Despite the lessened suspense, there is still a surprising amount of drama and tension in the story, which is brought upwards by Antoine Fuqua’s direction. He keeps to the single location style and uses techniques like focus, sound design and music to make the situation more uncomfortable for the viewer. Not to mention, letting a lot of shots linger just on Joe’s face to make us feel how he is feeling. Whilst there are a couple of distracting flourishes, he largely handles it well. The editing is also rather good, knowing when to cut and when not to, though the epilogue is a little drawn out.

Jake Gyllenhaal, as expected, does a great job. He has the right calm voice and professional presence for an ideal emergency operator, and when he loses his composure, it’s utterly convincing and raw. It’s an acting exercise that he pulls off, with many other famous unseen actors also doing well in pure voice roles.

The Guilty may not match the original’s brilliant suspense, but it is still an effective thriller that does just about manage to justify it’s existence and is at least further proof of Jake Gyllenhaal’s incredible talent. Not totally necessary if you’ve seen the original, but give it a go if you haven’t.



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