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‘The Guilty’: Jake Gyllenhaal’s next shot at the Oscars

| Thursday, October 7, 2021

Claire Kirner | The Observer

Jake Gyllenhaal is my favorite actor. He brings a kinetic energy on set that is visible in every angle, close up and press interview. By just looking at his face you can tell he loves his job and looks forward to working in front of the camera everyday. His newest film, “The Guilty,” is a perfect storm for his charismatic charm. Through 90 minutes of tension and rage, the camera is locked onto Gyllenhaal every second.

A remake of a 2018 Dutch film, “The Guilty” traps the audience with Joe Baylor, a detective demoted to the 911 call center. Why he is punished into a desk job is unknown, but his frustrations bubble a little too easily for it to feel unwarranted. The story is a character piece, and it commits to it all the way, centering the entire plot within two locations: a desk, and another desk. Where the world expands is on the other end of the phone; speeding cars and sirens mixed perfectly to create a three dimensional ambience engulfing the audio miles away from where Joe is stationed, the voices of strangers desperately calling out to him before it is too late.

Sadly, I did not watch Gustav Möller’s original, but from what I’ve read, “The Guilty” is a very loyal remake. Looking at the plots of both films, it does raise the question of whether it needed to be remade at all. Slight tweaks in the third act warrant a different outlook on the character, with a more personal ending, but up to that point it seems like a carbon copy.

Even with Antoine Fuqua directing, I didn’t notice a voice behind the camera. With so little time to develop an atmosphere, and with so small a setting to really experiment with the camerawork, I felt only a cold execution. I do think this is intentional to a certain degree: the office space is a blank slate, devoid of emotion yet blasting forest fires and sirens on a giant screen for the operators to stare at, anxiously waiting for the next emergency to call. It is a tensely quiet atmosphere for such an important job that the only moving thing in the room is Joe nervously twitching his worries away. The lens focuses on the right moments with clean editing and a refined pace of action, but the man in charge is very clearly the one in front of the camera.

Gyllenhaal carries this film on his back — pushing through emotional outbursts, intense tone changes and tight closeups — making it look like nothing. This feels like light work to him as if he enjoys pressuring his skills to the very edge, and I hope he gets some award for his performance. In the last ten minutes alone, he swings through an impressive range of emotions, fighting against the rage inside while suddenly letting it all go in the blink of an eye. If you have yet to be convinced of Gyllenhaal’s skill, this film is a must see.

And without Gyllenhaal, this film wouldn’t even exist. As soon as the Dutch original screened in festivals, he bought the rights to remake it immediately. He carried it forward and executed it perfectly, filling every frame with his performance, leaving little room for anyone else to share credit. He deserves all of the praise this film has to offer because, without him, what is left of the film?

In all honesty, I know it’s midterms, but “The Guilty” is a quick, 90 minute thriller at the top list of Netflix. It is as consumable as entertainment gets with a complete, nail biting story to keep you awake for that late-night study-binge. And with fingers crossed, it might be Gyllenhaal’s ticket to another Oscar.


Title: “The Guilty”

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal

Director(s): Antoine Fuqua

If you like: “Zodiac,” “Nightcrawler”

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5

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