Netflix’s remake of a recent eponymous Danish crime thriller Den Skyldige (2018), and a product of severe lockdown dynamics, with an eleven-day shooting schedule, The Guilty (2021) did the best possible job in highly restricted circumstances, but still came out short in richness of cinematic texture. In other words, Nic Pizzolatto‘s screenplay was fist-tight, but the acting had to be stellar for there to even be a film.
Other than the protagonist, a severely distressed LA cop named Joe Baylor, assigned to emergency phone services after a shooting in which his role is being legally challenged, and his few hermetically sealed phone-bound colleagues, everyone else inhabiting this claustrophobic environment is a disembodied voice, calling from the beyond.
The good news is that there are a few fine actors behind these ghostly echoes from the outer world (Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and particularly Riley Keough, as the terrified caller, Emily Lighton.
If you ever worked in a call centre (and I have), you know that these intangible voices can make for very palpable drama. Particularly if the dial they hit is 911.
So, high-octane director Antoine Fuqua reteams following Southpaw (2015) with an always fiercely committed Jake Gyllenhaal, as Baylor, for a sombre, stoic, flawed but ultimately harrowing chamber piece dealing with, in essence, the moral dilemma of our times – how much of what we perceive to be going on is our own projection, and how much do we assume about others given only snippets of information, and someone’s subjective interpretation?
Do we really help, when we are confident we are of service, or do we make things much worse, misdirecting our concerns?
Also, what do we do when those who are employed to protect us without prejudice or fail turn of to be all too human, with their own painful history weaponised and let loose when in positions of power?
The Guilty‘s ending makes it clear that we still do not have a clue. Collectively.
Author: ©Milana Vujkov