A remake of Gustav Möller’s 2018 film of the same name, Netflix’s English language version of the single-location thriller exceeds all expectations – a near 1:1 translation of the barnstorming Danish hit, its appeal is still likely limited to those unaware of its foundations but still, Fuqua’s film offers up enough of its own charm to be passable if a little void of the heart-pounding tension at times.
Centred upon the hyper-stressed LAPD communications officer, Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), amid a raging wildfire in the hills of Hollywood, a chilling call finds itself at the line of our protagonist – one close to home for the buzzcut-sporting officer who answers to a woman in distress and with a young family at risk, the reasoning for such danger yet to be clear until it’s unearthed by the leading man of course. Other details on narrative I’ll leave omitted as to avoid spoilers, but one can see where a few issues begin to crop up, in particular a frequent reliance upon incredibly tired tropes: being completely fair however, this is an issue also shared by the original film but The Guilty is a million miles from being innovative or groundbreaking where the meat of its story is concerned. Hinging solely upon a couple of twist reveals in the third act and hopeful its dialogue keeps a consistent level of intrigue, the film faltered massively as the fog began to clear, there’s a number of reasons as to why but in some respects, I was left with the sour taste of an anti-climax given the ultimate ruing of its early potential. There’s palpable conflict, a strong sense of character, and the mystery is masterfully presented in the film’s opening thus making its soap opera-esque ending more than a little deflating.
As a segue onto what is ultimately the remakes finest aspect, it is worth mentioning the supporting cast briefly. Sort of a content warning/general viewing advice, I’d suggest it’s best to go in as blind as possible, expect something akin to 2013’s Locke only swap out Hardy for Gyllenhaal. Rightfully used as a marketing tool, and announcements that gained massive amounts of traction in the realm of online film-focused circles, the names involved in this – specifically, those outside the double-pivot of Keough and Gyllenhaal – have little to offer besides voice cameos, there used in a sort of ‘video gamey’ fashion, a risk to hopefully maximise audience figures, see how Connor McGregor and Kit Harrington appeared in Call of Duty; Infinite Warfare for example; it’s unsubtle and potentially immersion-breaking with little to offer to the actual piece itself, a statement certainly applicable to a few of the huge names involved with this project.
That out the way, however, its central two stars are nothing short of utterly astounding. Praising Jake Gyllenhaal’s on-screen talents feels like a broken record at this point, so, shelving that for a second, it’s worth noting that Antoine Fuqua’s film is another instance of Riley Keough being a show-stealer and adds to the pile of evidence that puts her among the best of her generation. Off the back of the enjoyable Zola, Keough once again effortlessly occupies a role, as her turn here as Emily Lighton is somehow incredibly enchanting and arresting which is the ultimate compliment, I think I can afford given it’s delivered by voice only. In a relentless state of heightened emotion, the levels of nuance in her delivery are staggeringly impressive: somehow still finding room for heavy doses of charm and personality and even a dash of the spine-tinglingly chilling, it’s a perfect foil our ‘true’ protagonist and is probably worth the watch alone.
Which of course leaves her opposite, the man whose been mentioned frequently throughout; Jake Gyllenhaal. Producing the film as well as starring, his passion for the project does shine through and for the most part, he’s his typical exceptional self… save for the slightly awkward instances in which the actor is tasked with performing a European brand of sarcastic humour that sticks out like a sore thumb amid the rest of the overly-serious tone. Otherwise though, nigh on flawless: one of a number of micro-cast titles to recently join the catalogue available on Netflix UK, his singular performance in The Guilty is one of high enough quality to carry the film solo – where peers such as SK Dale’s Till Death fall short in that department, the reunification of star and director inspires, as Gyllenhaal matches, if not exceeds his turn as Billy Hope in Fuqua’s 2015 hit Southpaw. Captivating for the entirety of its 91-minute runtime he is the reason why this film doesn’t succumb entirely to the pitfalls of Hollywood remakes, there’s enough diversity in his performance to keep the dialogue from becoming stale, and the aforementioned commitment to the cause can be felt with each line that’s reeled off, providing a strong and stable core that – for lack of better phrasing – ‘brings it home’, the fixture of lead performance alone really makes Fuqua’s reimagining worthwhile and from the first second, is something that places emphasis on both the tension that underpins the whole narrative and sets the ball rolling on the breakneck pace at which the film will unfold. Undeniably the lifeblood of the film and a reminder – not that it should be needed – of the star’s leading capabilities, it demands to be seen.
However, it’s not perfect, plagued specifically by a few ever-present niggles that are incredibly noticeable. Not 100% faithful in its adaptation of the source material, I’d argue the direction tries a little too hard at times. In what can feel like a million shots a minute, coupled with a leering obsession over the physical intricacies of its lead star, it has troughs in the runtime where it’s difficult to keep fully engaged and efforts to reignite by sending out a flurry of shots are to be seen straight through, it’s a difficulty that likely comes with its premise and doesn’t last too long, fortunately, but it is certainly detrimental enough to effectively make the mask slip and show the generic nature that’s lying underneath.
In all, Netflix’s latest “original” can be considered as one of its best, as backhanded of a compliment that may be. Far from the worst offender where English-Language remakes are concerned, or thrillers for that matter either, The Guilty is one to be enjoyed for the fast-paced and well-performed romp that it is.