Dropping onto Netflix on Friday is The Guilty – a crime thriller from director Antoine Fuqua. The movie – a remake of a Danish film of the same name – stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Christina Vidal, and Adrian Martinez, and follows the story of an emergency call handler, who is contacted by woman in distress.
In the movie, Joe Baylor is a police officer, who has been temporarily reassigned to take emergency calls. During a busy night, Joe speaks to a frantic woman named Emily, who says she has been kidnapped by her partner.
Emily can only provide basic details about the incident, leaving Joe with very little information. Of the details she can provide, Joe knows that Emily is a passenger in a van, travelling along the highway.
In order to track down Emily, Joe has to use his initiative to zero in on her location. But the closer he gets to uncovering her whereabouts, the more troubling the situation becomes.
The Guilty is a low-budget thriller, predominantly taking place in one location. The movie centres around Joe, as played by Jake Gyllenhaal, as he receives calls at his desk, with the audience hearing (but not seeing) who is on the other end of the line.
This is a small-scale affair, which doesn’t contain any huge scenes of spectacle or lavish sequences. The movie was filmed in just 11-days, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and places its focus on tense, character-driven storytelling. Does it work? Yes, it does. The Guilty is a fine example of how to put so much on screen, while using so little. The movie is captivating and suspenseful, with enough story to round out its 90-minute runtime, and features a great performance by Gyllenhaal.
With Joe at the heart of this tale, Gyllenhaal has a lot to do. He has to deliver countless lines, react to voices off screen, drive the story, and sell the hell out of the premise.
He handles all of the above in his stride, with a turn that is a delight to watch. Gyllenhaal takes audiences on an emotional rollercoaster, as he unravels the story, delves deeper into the kidnapping, and provides important information about his own character.
Anyone who has followed Gyllenhaal’s career knows he is more than capable of acting his way around the screen, regardless of the situation. However, it is great to see him bringing so much to this role, when so much of the film rests on his shoulders.
He does get some support, and sharp-eared audiences will recognise the voices of a few well-known actors in the movie, including Ethan Hawke and Gyllenhaal’s real-life brother-in-law, Peter Sarsgaard, but this really is his movie. Gyllenhaal is arguably why audiences will turn their attention to this film, and his performance is one of the main reasons why they will keep watching.
But it’s not just Gyllenhaal that keeps things going, director Antoine Fuqua manages to squeeze out every drop of suspense from the story, as does screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto. Both have form, with Fuqua having directed such thrillers as Training Day (2001) and Olympus Has Fallen (2013), and Pizzolatto having created smash-hit TV show, True Detective – so if you’re a fan of either, you know what you are getting with this film.
Together they craft a story which is easy to get lost in. The main thrust is the kidnapping, and how Joe reacts to it, but there’s a little more going on here, with details about who Joe is as a person, which add greater depth to the narrative.
Every element of Joe’s story is perfectly balanced, the right information is dropped at exactly the right time, and it all builds up towards a satisfying conclusion. There’s no sequel baiting or world-building, this is just a good old fashioned, self-contained pot-boiler, perfect for home viewing.
Netflix serves up an array of movies, many of which attempt to be more than they are – films which have lofty aspirations, but simply don’t have the budget or know-how to pull things off. The Guilty doesn’t fall into this trap, because it understands that less is more, and a good story will always win through.
If you love thrillers, you’ll find much to like here. The Guilty is a great little movie to add to your watch list and is sure to hold your interest throughout.
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