Antoine Fuqua and Nic Pizzolatto offer up their take on the 2018 Danish film
The question looming over everyone in The Guilty, Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 2018 Danish film of the same name, is “what’s your plan?”. LAPD Officer Joe Baylor’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) world is literally and figuratively on fire and the only way out is to move forward before the flames swallow him whole. Officer Baylor is currently working as a 911 operator, a demotion while he awaits the results of an investigation about an on the job incident. He’s a day away from the court hearing that will likely get him out of the call center and back on the street. All he has to do is make it through one more night shift on the phones. Meanwhile, there’s a raging wildfire in Hollywood Hills, and footage of the flames is plastered all across the screens in front of Baylor.
Then comes Baylor’s personal reckoning in the form of a call that he can’t pass on to anyone else. The caller is Emily, (Riley Keough), frantic as she tells Baylor she’s been abducted. With the fire demanding the attention of most of the emergency responders, Baylor’s only option is to work the phones aggressively to help Emily. All he knows is Emily is in a van somewhere on the highway and her kids are home alone. Emily’s story contains a handful of gut-punch reveals that I won’t spoil here. If you’ve seen the 2018 film, then you already know what’s coming, so I’ll just say that those moments still work the second time around, although I am curious to know who the story plays to people experiencing it for the first time.
As Baylor does what he can for Emily, he’s faced with constant reminders of his own situation. His attempts to tell his daughter goodnight end up in a game of phone tag with his ex (or soon to be ex) wife. And there’s a reporter who keeps calling him about his case. All the while, footage of the wildfire looms over him. The image of the raging flames is one Fuqua comes back to repeatedly, and it succinctly sums up the biggest strengths and weaknesses of this remake. As a dramatic chamber piece, The Guilty is propulsive and gripping. As a moral reckoning, it’s a bit heavy handed. That’s to be expected as subtlety isn’t exactly a calling card for Fuqua and writer Nic Pizzolatto. Fuqua’s direction is lean and Pizzolatto’s script leans on the tortured masculinity he made his name with on True Detective. These purveyors of tough-guy stories are right in their wheelhouse here, and it’s fun to see them work within the confines of the story’s single location setting.
But the movie lives or dies on the shoulders of Gyllenhaal’s performance. The movie never leaves the call center and Baylor is in just about every frame of the movie, so your enjoyment may come down to how much you enjoy Gyllenhaal. I’m a fan, so going on this ride with him was rewarding. He’s not doing anything we haven’t seen from him before but, like Jakob Cedergren in the original, he gives viewers a protagonist we can invest in. On paper, Officer Baylor is a tough sell in 2021 as a police officer accused of on-the-job violence. He’s not exactly a sympathetic character, but Gyllenhaal makes it work.
The 2018 film, directed by Gustav Möller, is a compact thriller that quietly builds to a series of galvanizing revelations. The 2021 version is just as tight, but a bit more bombastic. It sacrifices the quiet power of the original in favor of more visceral thrills. The result is a film that entertains, but is more disposable. The original film burned itself into my mind and stayed there for a while, the remake extinguished pretty quickly.
The Guilty is available on Netflix