Film Review: The Guilty


Antoine Fuqua


Jake Gyllenhaal, Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough, Christina Vidal, Eli Goree, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Paul Dano and Peter Sarsgaard



A demoted police officer assigned to a call dispatch desk is conflicted when he receives an emergency phone call from a kidnapped woman.

The film takes place over the course of a single morning in a 911 dispatch call centre. Call operator Joe Baylor tries to save a caller in grave danger—but he soon discovers that nothing is as it seems, and facing the truth is the only way out.

Danish thriller The Guilty (Den skyldige) was one of the biggest surprises in 2018 when I watched it at the Foyle Film Festival and it made such an impression that it ended up in my Top 100 Films of the Decade list last year (shameless plug here). With its critical and audience reception upon release, it wasn’t long when Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nine Stories acquired the English-language rights to adapt the story. Fast-forward to now where we are a couple of weeks away from the remake of The Guilty making its way for limited cinematic release before becoming available globally on Netflix. Switching location from Copenhagen to Los Angeles, the premise is still the same as we focus on Joe Bayler, an embittered police officer who is winding down a chaotic but tedious shift answering emergency calls as a wildfire rages towards the city. Answering calls however is a demotion he has received ahead of an imminent disciplinary hearing. After multiple calls her gets a rather cryptic one from a woman who appears to be attempting to call her child, but is in fact discreetly reporting her own abduction. Working with the little clues she is able to provide, Joe throws all his skill and intuition towards ensuring her safety but as the severity of the crime comes to light, Joe’s own psychological state begins to fray and he is forced to reconcile with demons of his own.


Jake Gyllenhaal takes on the role of Joe (portrayed by Jakob Cedergren in the Danish original) and thankfully he provides a few different characteristics, such as Joe being an asthmatic for one, that make his performance feel more distinguishable from Cedergren. He’s more unhinged here in trying to deal with multiple things at once besides his upcoming court hearing the following morning, such as trying to get through to his former spouse in order to say goodnight to his daughter, as well as brush off cold calls from a reporter trying to get a comment for his hearing. Why he has a court hearing, as well as working as a dispatcher, is for the audience to find out along the journey as he gets a call from Emily.


Much like the original, the film rests solely on Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as he is on screen for 99.9% of the films ninety minute runtime and, as ever, he gives a reliable performance in the role. From the voice cast ensemble, Riley Keough gives a really good performance as Emily, as does Peter Sarsgaard as Henry. The directing from Antoine Fuqua is well done, complimented by Max Makhani’s cinematography. While the film works hanging on Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, I couldn’t manage to detach myself from the original film while watching this and that’s primarily due to the fact that other than changing the language, a good chunk of the film still felt word-for-word the same for me. The film doesn’t play out, narratively, the exact same as there’s a few creative changes made and I felt it lessened the impact of the story compared to the original for me. I am curious as to how someone who hasn’t watched the original will find this film and its ending?



Viewed with tinted eye-balls being a fan of the Danish original, the English-language remake of The Guilty is a decent thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal providing a commendable performance that will keep you engaged for the 90 minute runtime. But with a few narrative tweaks compared to the original, the changes don’t feel as effective as they should and the script, for a good portion of the film, feel exactly word-for-word the same.