As a Netflix exclusive, the Jake Gyllenhaal-lead The Guilty is a fine couch watch — not an offensively bad feature, yet certainly one that is not worth trekking to a theater to witness.
It’s hard to believe but we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of Training Day, the film that earned Denzel Washington his first Best Actor Academy Award and made his co-star Ethan Hawke a bonafide Hollywood star.
As for the director, Antoine Fuqua, it is to say that he hasn’t made a great narrative film since this 2001 crime classic. There have been plenty of guilty pleasures (Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer) and stellar documentaries (American Dream/American Knightmare, The Day Sports Stood Still) but he has never quite captured the same unapologetically raw feel that made Training Day a timeless classic. And unfortunately Fuqua’s latest flick, The Guilty (available to stream Netflix starting Friday, October 1st) is another lackluster outing.
The Guilty, a remake of Gustav Möller’s 2018 Danish feature of the same name, stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Baylor, a disgraced police officer working the late shift at a 911 dispatch center. Baylor falls upon a distressing kidnapping case and must work diligently with the victim, Emily (Riley Keough), his police peers (Hawke and Eli Goree) and others to piece the crime together.
The Guilty could have worked as a compelling play. The minimalist setup, focus on Gyllenhaal, and creative use of audio seems like a wonderful vehicle for a Broadway production. Instead, we are left with a vapid thriller that thinks it says more than it really does. It is a B-Movie that thinks it is a blockbuster, a popcorn flick that believes it is transmitting a deeper message.
This feature was shot over an 11-day period last autumn, during peak pandemic circumstances. Apart from Gyllenhaal, there are only two in-person actors. The majority of shots are the actor in front of three dully-lit computer screens. The rest of the cast appears via phone calls. It is a thrilling idea in concept that generally fails to live up to its expectations.
Joe Baylor is painted out to be an anti-hero. He is an individual who works to ensure the safety of others while attempting to balance his own personal struggles. He is hours away from a trial related to an on the job incident. It becomes clear that helping save an abducted Emily has more to do than simply helping a civilian in need. This could also be his redemption arc. This idea reaches a near-comedic climax when Baylor’s coworker notes that, “Broken people save broken people.”
The single-location setting of the film results in a limited capability of exploring the deeper layers of this character. It is apparent that an exploration of mental health within the police force was an important topic for both the actor and director to explore. There is only so much that can be conveyed with a character in front of a screen. Gyllenhaal is compelling to the best of his abilities despite a character who lacks true complexity. Much like Southpaw, his first team-up with Fuqua, the actor still gives top-notch efforts even when script is colorless.
Fuqua takes a Hitchcockian approach to suspense. The lack of visuals should theoretically allow the audience to create their own nightmarish landscape to their own devices. Instead, information is spoon-fed from this very standard crime plot. We know too much too soon despite not seeing anything aside from Gyllenhaal at his desk.
As a Netflix exclusive, The Guilty is a fine couch watch — not an offensively bad feature, yet certainly one that is not worth trekking to a theater to witness. It offers sparks of great cinema, without ever climbing near its full potential.
Mr. Wavvy was born and raised in Montreal. Legend has it that his ghost still haunts the city’s Olympic Stadium, waiting for the day that the Expos will return. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.