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Review: Jake Gyllenhaal elevates tense American remake of 'The Guilty'

Courtesy of Netflix


It’s not surprising Hollywood rushed to remake ”The Guilty,” an acclaimed Danish thriller from Gustav Moller, as quickly as they did. A low concept, single location thriller with an intense script that keeps audiences guessing are rare commodities. Much of the original script remains unscathed in Antoine Fuqua’s shot-for-shot American redo, which will certainly garner more eyeballs on Netflix than the original did in its lifetime. Jake Gyllenhaal is in the driver's seat and it’s an excellent showcase, and probably the only reason fans of the original should consider seeking it out.

Fuqua and screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto remain faithful to the material aside from an occasional liberty or two. The original didn’t take place in California with a raging wildfire engulfing the state, but, for the most part, the narrative remains sound. “The Guilty” follows Gyllenhaal’s 911 dispatcher, Joe Bayer for 90 uninterrupted minutes as he takes flurries of calls. Quick tempered and not well mannered, Joe is dealing with an impending court case that’ll alter the course of his life, but not before a call from a woman, Emily (Riley Keough) who dials in discreetly mid-abduction, becomes a top priority.

From there, “The Guilty” morphs into a race-against-the-clock thriller as Gyllenhaal handles the intensity whilst staying glued to his desk cycling through call trees of friends and co-workers, zipping back and forth between the switchpads and screens, to help locate Emily. There’s a reason the Oscar nominee decided to produce this one himself: acting exercises of this caliber are scarce.

Not saying the voice cast featuring Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Bill Burr, and Paul Dano doesn't carry any weight. Keough deserves top praise for all the distressing and heartbreaking sounds she channels without ever seeing her face. What makes this film, much like the original, gripping is the real-time urgency of the plot and Gyllenhaal understands the assignment even if his overwrought monologues come across ham-fisted during the film’s breakneck moments.

There'll be minimal revelations for those familiar with 2018’s superior version whereas newbies will get rocked at the conclusion (it remains an absolute doozy). Fuqua, known for his massive blockbusters, challenges himself by keeping elements cramped and claustrophobic as the fires rage outside and within. Through it all, “The Guilty” remains cinematic and despite losing creative luster, Gyllenhaal brings enough juice to overcome usual remake doldrums.

Grade: B

THE GUILTY opens in select theaters Friday, September 24th and debuts on Netflix Friday, October 1st.


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