Huis-clos thrillers aren’t the easiest to pull off. But when you want to make a movie during a pandemic, it might be your best bet of getting something made. Antoine Fuqua takes a stab at remaking the Danish movie ‘Den Skyldige‘ and comes out mostly unscathed.

Officer Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) has issues. Plenty of them. As he works the night shift taking distress calls at a 911 call center we can see him unraveling under the pressure. Is it just the job that’s doing him under? A mysterious court appointment and a reporter that hounds him for his side of ‘the story’ suggest otherwise. All of that fades into the background however when Joe receives a call from a woman who claims to have been kidnapped. As the night progresses, Joe gets pulled deeper and deeper into the case at his own expense.

Fuqua is usually known for cop dramas drenched in machismo, so he wouldn’t have been my first choice to direct this Netflix production. Yet the man knows how to keep the enclosed setting interesting. More often than not, the camera is squarely aimed at Gyllenhaal, switching between mid shots, close ups and extreme close ups. Only once or twice are we treated to overlays of what may or may not be going on in the outside world. It works perfectly and grabs your attention.

We have to give credit where credit is due though, Gyllenhaal is the one who sells it. As the camera rarely leaves his face, it’s his expressions and emotive capability that pull us in. He’s a powerhouse actor and he proves it yet again.

The reworked screenplay written by Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) is by its very nature repetitive but somehow manages to not feel that way. The story also has enough narrative turns to keep the audience on its toes. Even though we’re treated to nothing but a series of phone conversations, the voices belong to a really nice cast. We may not get to see Paul Dano, Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard or Ethan Hawke, but they bring their characters to life either way.

The final conclusion did feel like a dubious one. For the sake of not spoiling anything I won’t go into detail, but Joe’s personal issues with the law seem to be undermined by a rather simplistic message that stress can get to any of us and make us do horrible things. It’s not nearly nuanced enough to counter the plethora of real world problems in that area that we’ve seen over the years.

The Guilty‘ overreaches its grasp on the moral side of things. But as a diverting thriller it throws enough great punches and has a killer Gyllenhaal performance to make it worth those frantic 90 minutes.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Reviewed on September 13, 2021 at Toronto International Film Festival. Rating: R. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of an Amet Entertainment, Bold Films, Endeavor Content, Nine Stories Productions & Fuqua Films production. Producers: Antoine Fuqua, Scott Greenberg, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Haring, David Litvak, Michel Litvak, Riva Marker, Svetlana Metkina, Kat Samick & Gary Michael Waters. Executive producers: Justin Bursch, Lina Flint, Eric Greenfeld, Annie Marter, Christian Mercuri, Gustav Möller, Jonathan Oakes & Nic Pizzolatto.

CREW: Director: Antoine Fuqua. Writer: Nic Pizzolatto (original screenplay by Gustav Möller & Emil Nygaard Albertsen). Editing: Jason Ballantine. Music: Marcelo Zarvos. Cinematography: Maz Makhani.

CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Christina Vidal, Eli Goree, David Castañeda, Adrian Martinez, Oscar Balderrama, Becky Wu & Bret Eric Porter.

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