Based on the critically acclaimed Danish film by the same name, The Guilty‘s script does well with infusing the Jake Gyllenhaal-led film with blistering commentary about the American policing complex and the inherent distrust people have in it. Under the surface of a somewhat cut and dry thriller, there are also conversation starters about how the police handle mental health crises, toxic masculinity, and the abuse of power.
Jake Gyllenhaal Runs the Full Gamut of Emotions in The Guilty
The Guilty is a very straightforward film. Disgraced police detective Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal) has been put on call center duty while he awaits trial for something he did in the line of duty. The plot takes place over the course of one night shift, on the eve of his trial. The first calls he deals with are rather unremarkable and exactly what you expect to hear in a call center: a robbery, a drug-related call, and a handful of fire-related situations. In these calls, you get a clear picture of who Joe Baylor is as a cop. He blames the drug user for whatever is happening to him, he laughs and mocks the man who has been robbed, and he seems genuinely disinterested in doing the helping part of being a cop.
Then he gets a call from Emily (Riley Keough) and his night is turned on its head. Emily has been taken hostage by her ex-husband and Joe must race to find her, while dealing with slow-moving highway patrol and limited resources as the wildfires burn through California.
I do not plan on giving too much of the plot away because the twists and turns are what make The Guilty an exceptionally fun, albeit stressful film. Gyllenhaal does an exceptional job carrying the entire emotional weight of the film. You don’t necessarily root for Joe because it’s quite clear that he did something really bad, but you do root for him to do his job well. Especially when some of the officers around him seem less invested in rescuing Emily or ensuring that her children are safe.
As Joe helps to track down vital information to help Emily and unravel what is happening to her on the other side of the phone, audiences slowly learn what he did to warrant desk duty in the call center. We see flashes of violence, anger, and a certain brand of machoism that is inherently part of the brotherhood of toxic masculinity that Americans see daily from the police force.
Director Antoine Fuqua makes the absolute most out of the single location. There aren’t overly complicated shots or scenes with awe-inspiring set-ups, but the way that he filmed The Guilty helps to build the anxiety with close-ups and tension-building angles.
Nic Pizzolatto's script illuminates many issues with the American policing system, but it never quite takes them to task. The decision is left solely on the audience to decide how they feel about Joe and the situation that they watch unfold like a bystander. Gyllenhaal makes the absolute most of the source material, giving one of his most powerful performances in the past five years.
The Guilty had its world premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival. It will have a limited theatrical release starting September 24th, prior to streaming exclusively on Netflix on October 1st, 2021.
Check out our full coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.