‘The Guilty’ Movie Review: The Jake Gyllenhaal Netflix Thriller Is an Unnecessary Remake

The Guilty is an intense thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat for its 91-minute runtime. It’s based on the 2018 Danish movie by the same name. It’s not as impressive as the original, but it does still pack a punch that’s unshakable. The Guilty is a real nail-biter with an emotional performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Director Antoine Fuqua’s Hollywood iteration is entertaining, but not entirely necessary.

‘The Guilty’ is about responsibility

Netflix's 'The Guilty' actor Jake Gyllenhaal on the computer with a red light on
Jake Gyllenhaal | Netflix

Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal) is a police officer who has been demoted to a call dispatch desk. The Guilty takes place during the course of a single one of his shifts. He doesn’t get along with many of his co-workers, often acting aggressively toward them. Joe has a wife and child, who he’s now separated from as a result of decisions he’s made.

Joe accepts emergency calls, which range from non-emergencies to standard, straightforward dispatch calls. However, he gets one call from a kidnapped woman named Emily (Riley Keough) that sends his shift in a spiral. Now, the decisions he makes are a matter of life and death. Can he hold it together or will this series of calls utterly unravel him?

‘The Guilty’ is a single-location thriller

Netflix's 'The Guilty' star Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Bayler looking in the mirror with his badge on
Jake Gyllenhaal | Glen Wilson/Netflix

The Guilty is exactly the type of story that’s best to shoot during a pandemic. It primarily takes place in a single filming location. There are a few other workers in the office, but there isn’t much interaction. Joe talks with a few different folks over the phone, but this is a one-man show. In this regard, it’s similar to movies such as Tom Hardy in Locke or Ryan Reynolds in Buried.

Nic Pizzolatto’s screenplay pulls portions of dialogue word-for-word from the 2018 original. However, he does make distinct changes to adapt it for a domestic audience. The Guilty is set against the backdrop of the California wildfires. It’s clear that resources are limited as they fight against the fires.

The story ultimately relies on a twist toward the end of the movie. However, the film’s power comes from the journey of getting there. The visuals are limited. Fuqua keeps the story primarily auditory, allowing the story to blossom in the viewer’s mind. That’s part of the tension. Joe’s story is told in pieces, but the audience is always working with the same information on the kidnapping.

Not every foreign movie needs a remake

'The Guilty' actor Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Bayler in the hallway on his phone
Jake Gyllenhaal | Netflix

The Guilty is a perfect example of why not every foreign movie needs a remake. The Danish version is a masterclass of tension. The movies are very similar plot-wise. However, some of the changes feel very Hollywood. It shies away from some of the darker places that the 2018 original is willing to go. The best addition is the change in some of the citizen-police interactions, which is fitting for America’s social climate.

Jakob Cedergren’s lead performance in the original movie is a show-stopper. Gyllenhaal is good in the same role, but Cedergren’s performance features more layers to the character. Gyllenhaal’s portrayal is noticeably more agitated and features fewer solemn moments.

The Guilty remains to be an effective dramatic thriller. It tells a captivating, relentless story that hits the ground running. It’s a very simple premise that primarily takes place in one location, but it becomes increasingly complicated over the course of its runtime. But, it just begs the question of if this remake was necessary. The 2018 Danish version is exceptional and stands on its own. If you haven’t already seen it, you should definitely do so.

The Guilty is now available in select theaters and on Netflix.

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