Released: 1st October
Seen: 27th November
While some films have large elaborate casts, there are those that are designed specifically to focus on a single performance. When these are done right, they can lead to some genuinely fascinating films with incredible central performances, we had one earlier this year with Oxygen, which bore a lot of similarities to Buried. The trick is to somehow maintain an audience’s intrigue for an hour and a half with only one performer and one location. Joining that group of films is The Guilty, a film that gives Jake Gyllenhaal a chance to show off just what he can do… interesting choice to release it around the time we’re apparently meant to hate him because a song said so, but hey that’s how things happen sometimes.
The Guilty follows Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), a police officer who is currently put on the call dispatch desk as some form of punishment for something bad he did (because apparently, we punish cops by making them answer phones). During his day Joe ends up getting a call from a woman who is currently being kidnapped, or at least that’s what she believes. This call starts a chain reaction for Joe where he must do everything he can to try and save this woman from her seemingly abusive boyfriend while also dealing with his own personal demons which have led him to have a serious anger issue that he’ll carry throughout the film.
The Guilty mostly consists of close ups of Jake Gyllenhaal as he repeatedly answers the phone, talking to either the kidnapped woman, her alleged kidnapper or any of the many people in the various departments he has to interact with. He will, of course, yell and curse out every single one of them repeatedly and loudly in front of superiors who should probably get this unstable man away from a job where he needs to help people in the worst moments of their lives. Sure, without those moments of Joe screaming bloody murder down a phone we can’t get to the big revelation at the end of the film that’s meant to give this film its weight but it makes for annoying viewing.
What The Guilty does well is let Jake Gyllenhaal show off just how good he is as a performer. With nothing to work with but a voice on a phone he is able to wring every ounce of emotion from every scene. Even when he’s just an angry loud man for an uncomfortably long time he manages to find the peaks and valleys in that emotion, going from table flipping anger to quietly seething in a matter of seconds. It’s the kind of performance that can carry an entire film on its own, even if we never heard what was on the other end of the phone it would still work because Jake is that good at selling the material he’s been handed… admittedly it’s material that’s been done better before but still, Jake does a great job.
Oh when I say “done better before” I’m not talking about the 2018 Danish film that this is a remake of (because I haven’t seen that one). No, The Guilty reminds me of the episode of Law and Order SVU titled 911 where Olivia Benson spends pretty much the entire film on a speaker phone with a little girl trying to figure out where she is. This is basically that but an hour and a half longer with a bigger cast but if you wanted to know what it looked like when Jake Gyllenhaal tried to pull off something Mariska Hargitay did, here you go.
What really does just let this down is how obscenely cruel they make Joe to be. Again, The Guilty does lead to a grand revelation about Joe and tries to make an important point regarding police brutality (One that would probably have led to some right wing backlash if The Guilty was actually popular enough for it to be worth them making one of those angry videos where they misunderstand the point of media in order to scream “Wokeness gone too far”) but the problem is that Joe is so unlikeable as a main character that it is going to turn some people off.
Hell, if I didn’t absolutely have to finish The Guilty in order to write about it, I might’ve stopped at the half hour mark because the character is impossible to like even a little. Not saying the character has to be an absolutely lovable being, asshole characters can be interesting to follow too but this one isn’t interesting, he yells a lot and insults everyone to the point where HR should’ve dragged him off the floor of the call centre within the his first call! It’s almost baffling that he’s never so much as reprimanded, at best just asked “Is everything alright” after screaming “Fuck you” to some calling 911.
The Guilty might be a little hard to watch due to the attitude of the main character but if you stick with it, you’ll end up getting a pretty decent thriller that utilizes the lead actor better than most other films like this. A grand display of an actor’s range and ability with a compelling story that overpowers the undeniable urge to kick the main character right in the taint while wearing steel capped shoes.