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Review: 'The Guilty' (2021) Dir. Antoine Fuqua

Jake Gyllenhaal, Christina Vidal, Adrian Martinez, Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough, Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard and Da'Vine Joy Randolph


A remake of the Danish 2018 thriller of the same name by Gustav Möller proves that not even a global pandemic can fully stop production of well executed thrillers using a simple premise...

Madison Lake (Wallis) has suffered a lifetime of trauma and tragedy, including adoption and miscarriage. Yet her nightmare is only just beginning when she wakes to find her abusive partner dead downstairs, in a gruesome way.

Madison does her best to piece her life back together, but is haunted by visions of death; people she knows, people she doesn't. It becomes worse when her visions aren't just visions at all, but actual murders taking place.

Clues from Madison's past hold the key to these murders and identifies the pattern that links them together. Who, or what, is behind these supernatural massacres, and what part does Madison play in it all...?

Produced and filmed during a pandemic makes you second guess the lack of cast and minimal locations. Looking past that, you actually see this could have been filmed during any period - it's a story and narrative that doesn't require lots of cast, lost of location hopping and lots of action. Star and producer Jake Gyllenhaal acquired the rights for an American remake of the acclaimed 2018 Danish thriller by director Gustav Möller. It's a thriller faithful to the source material thankfully that doesn't try to expand, capitalise or flesh out the story for bigger, louder and prouder effect to mainstream audiences.

Clocking in at just 1hr 20mins, the adapted story by Nic Pizzolatto wastes no time to establish our lead 911 call operator Joe is a fragile man. He's battling evident health concerns, juggling an estranged family and preparing for a hearing in less than 24hrs for an incident that took him off duty and into the call centre. As if that's not enough pressure, he faces a number of testing calls from those needing help, but it's the call from Riley Keough's Emily that throws his shift into a stressful, desperate race against time.

Similar to the screen-life thrillers from Timur Bekmambetov, a great amount of the power behind this story is from what you hear over phone calls. It's a film that requires you to focus, to listen and to think - it's a journey as well as a film that you're taking; a journey to find the right outcome for a situation that is spiralling out of control and out of context minute by minute. Antoine Fuqua brings his understanding of the darker side to policing as director, tapping into everything that works as a thriller and using Gyllenhaal's talent as an actor.

The crux of this story is you are living Joe's night - all you have is what he hears, and what he doesn't see, you don't know. It's up to Joe - and you - to decide who is guilty or not, and what is right and wrong.

This is Gyllenhaal's film; he is who we spend every second of screentime with, and who we experience every emotion with during the story played out in real time. For such an intense and versatile actor, you don't expect anything less than an engrossing, intense and immersive performance. Joe is a good man and a good police officer, but Gyllenhaal never avoids teasing out the darker side to fragile humans, struggling to do the right thing whilst balancing their own pressure. You see every ounce of stress, worry, fear, doubt and anger on his face. He plays a great physical role as well as emotional, and its clear he's fighting to save his conscious as well as that of others in his duty.

But a roster of equally talented actors lend their skill as fellow officers in the centre such as Christina Vidal and Adrian Martinez who help us identify who Joe is. On the phones we have Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard and Da'Vine Joy Randolph who are near unrecognisable as they give some intense performances that suck you right into the urgency of the situation. All you have is their phone calls, Joe as a responder and the information teased on screen regarding their location.

The lighting is minimal and only natural icy blues, yellows, reds and blacks fill the call centre. Shadows, blinds and the night itself isolates the outside world and bring us into a very bleak and somehow dangerous world of police call operators. This is all played out with local forest fires raging on TV monitors behind him - the fire burns outside as much as it does inside. A discreet but pulse-pounding score by Marcelo Zarvos acts as an underlying heartbeat to the tension that plays out.

There are many small things that come together and work in unison for a simple story, a simple premise and a simple evaluation of who can truly can be defined as guilty, and the weight that is carried because of it

Straight in at the deep end from the start - nothing less than expected from talent such as Gyllenhaal and Fuqua - prepare for an engrossing, powerful and gripping thriller told from the unexplored world of police dispatch.

'The Guilty' is a co-production between Bold Films, Amet Entertainment, Nine Stories Productions and Fuqua Films

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