The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/Netflix] - THE GUILTY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/Netflix] - THE GUILTY

the guilty review
Assigned to emergency services dispatch duty while under investigation, a cop becomes invested in the plight of an abducted woman.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgard, Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano

the guilty poster

What's the point of English language remakes of foreign language movies? Well, some people are xenophobes. Others refuse to read subtitles. Some are xenophobes who refuse to read subtitles. The argument is often made that a Hollywood remake brings the story to a larger audience, but in this age of streaming that doesn't really hold up anymore.

Until quite recently, director Gustav Möller's gripping 2018 feature debut The Guilty was available to stream on Netflix. It seems to have been taken down to make way for a new Hollywood remake directed by Antoine Fuqua. Rather than spending millions on remaking Möller's film, couldn't Netflix have just promoted the original while it was in their library? Will Fuqua's version even be promoted, or like so many Netflix originals, will it disappear into the void of the streaming service's algorithm? Who is it for? Would the sort of people who will watch this new version of The Guilty really turn their noses up at the original because it was made by Johnny Foreigner? Did Netflix examine their data and see that a lot of people clicked play on Möller's original only to disconnect upon realising it required them to read subtitles?

the guilty review

I'm not opposed to the idea of American remakes of foreign films (or vice versa), so long as they justify their existence beyond negating the audience from having to endure subtitles or the presence of non-Anglo-Saxons. Sometimes Hollywood can bring extra resources to a film, like William Friedkin's Sorcerer, which used the might of '70s Hollywood to beef up The Wages of Fear's tense action sequences. Sometimes an American remake brings a new cultural specificity and setting to a film, like how The Magnificent Seven transplants The Seven Samurai to the Old West in bombastic fashion.

Fuqua's remake brings nothing new to the table. What could it? It's a movie about a man speaking on a phone that takes place in two rooms. It exists purely to cater to people who won’t watch foreign films, for whatever reason.

Möller's original borrowed the template I believe was established by the Levinson and Link scripted 1975 TV movie A Cry for Help. In that film Robert Culp played a blowhard radio shock jock who receives a call from a suicidal listener. As he tries to talk her out of taking her life while attempting to track down her location, the camera stays in the DJ's booth, letting Culp do the heavy lifting of telling the story on his own.

In Möller's film, this idea is transferred to a police dispatch centre where a disgraced cop awaiting trial for a misdeed receives a call from a young woman who has seemingly been abducted and is being driven out of the city in a white van.

the guilty review

In this remake, screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto sticks almost devoutly to the original's script. Jake Gyllenhaal takes the role of LAPD officer Joe Baylor, who has been forced to man a dispatch centre cubicle while he awaits trial. Using his cop's instincts, Baylor attempts to save the abducted woman (voiced here by Riley Keough) while growing frustrated by the lax attitude of his colleagues in Los Angeles' various emergency services.

If your film requires one actor to be onscreen alone for almost its entire running time, you could do a lot worse than Gyllenhaal. He's one of America's finest actors, but it's only while watching him here and comparing his performance to that of his Danish cousin Jakob Cedergren that I realised just how American Gyllenhaal is. He's very, very good here, but in comparison to Cedergren's naturalistic performance he comes off as broad and theatrical, the veins in his forehead positively bursting as Baylor grows more and more agitated.

Having seen the original, and since this follows its plot beat by beat, it's difficult for me to assess whether the remake works. Knowing every twist before it arrives means my experience is very different to that of a viewer unfamiliar with the plot. What I did notice is how inferior Fuqua's visual storytelling is compared to Möller's. While both versions of The Guilty are heavily reliant on dialogue, the Danish director still found ways to heighten the tension visually, with some nerve-wracking moments where the protagonist's finger hovers over buttons that are notably absent here. Instead, Fuqua throws in some pointless visual gimmicks like odd visualisations of the events Baylor is listening to, which only serve to temporarily pull us out of the story. As though a chunk of the budget needed to be eaten up, Fuqua's film opens with a completely pointless shot of helicopters flying over a burning Los Angeles that wouldn't be out of place in a Michael Bay movie. In the Danish film, Möller uses brief moments of silence to build tension; such moments are all too rare in Fuqua's noisier remake.

the guilty review

Perhaps what marks this as a mainstream American remake most of all is how it treats its audience as idiots who can't figure out the movie's theme for themselves. Möller allowed us to put two and two together, but Fuqua has a character appear onscreen at the end and literally speak the theme of the movie.

In summary, if you're only going to watch one version of The Guilty, make it the original. If you're watching both, watch the original first. If you refuse to watch the original and only intend to watch this version, you'll be entertained but missing out on a gem of recent European cinema.

The Guilty
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from September 24th and on Netflix from October 1st.

2021 movie reviews