Directed By Antoine Fuqua
Starring – Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard
The Plot – Takes place over the course of a single morning in a 911 dispatch call center. Call operator Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal) 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.
Rated R for adult language throughout
– Informatively poignant. Screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto, the same man responsible for helming my favorite TV show of the past decade, “True Detective”, clearly has enough respect and attention to detail in fleshing out a career for emergency dispatchers that combines all of the heft and humanity of its circumstances. Because of such, we not only comprehend the magnitude of importance that stems from them being the visible line between crime scenes and responding officers, but also the lasting effect that a career entails with the balance of trying to maintain a conventional life outside of such. On top of this, the film offers an intricate look at the accessibility of intelligence and technology, which serve as the primary tools to narrowing the elapsing time between these delicate situations, providing eye-opening honesty and awareness to the audience, which makes the solutions easier to interpret.
– Masterful direction. “The Guilty” is easily Fuqua’s best directing effort since “Training Day”, and one that brings with it no shortage of tension and nail-biting anxiety that he continuously revels in. When Antoine isn’t building these scenes like a crescendo of mounting anticipation for operatic levels of dramatic relevance, it’s his construction of sequencing that is most nourishing to the dynamic of the characters and ever-changing situations. This keeps the stakes consistently taut throughout what is basically just conversations between strangers, with no action sequences to boot, and takes these intimate conflicts and fleshes them out to what feels like world-ending magnitudes. It proves that sometimes simplicity is the best way for a heralded director to once again find his creative spark, and reminds us why he’s among the best with regards to gritty captivity that never lacks realism to the counterpunch of its material.
– Jake of all trades. This is another immersive turn for Gyllenhaal, whose value in isolation, urgency, and especially vulnerability supplant a turn that I’m hoping at the very least will be given Oscar consideration. Part of Jake’s brilliance as a screen presence is his ability to vividly paint a picture without anyone or anything at his disposal, enhancing matters with a seamless delivery and rampant intensity that continuously holds your attention throughout 88 minutes of dialogue, while attaining an air of humanity as a broken protagonist. Beyond Jake, the cast itself is loaded with big name presences, which lend themselves to vocal capacities of the many characters Joe comes into interaction with, and stretch far beyond the two listed above that are easily detectable from the moment they move into our sense of sound. One who isn’t familiar, however, is a longtime Fuqua collaborator serving as a police chief in the film, and who brings with him a gruff, fiery registry that audibly transforms him, and makes the portrayal all the more impressive for post-film credit reveals.
– Disorienting presentation. Whether in the sleek cinematography of Maz Makhani permeating a claustrophobic chaos to the lavish interiors, or the variety of angles stitched together to represent the passage of time, there’s a constantly unnerving conscience to “The Guilty” made all the more leveling by the structure of its editing. This is where continuity takes a backseat to perplexity, as anyone paying attention faithfully with notice an uneasiness with Joe’s bodily versatility that feels like three scenes were shoe-horned into one to make one jarring consequence. But the strobing documentation is an intentional one, meant to articulate the constant frustrations and inescapable manic of the evolving call with cuts as frenetic as the material they’re encompassing. The cuts themselves are obvious without feeling distracting to your investment, and the overall scope ambitiously improves the audible categories tenfold with a combination to production that proves all hands were on deck.
– Naturalistic dialogue. The many conversations and interactions decorating the film sprinkle an air of realistic relevance to the ensuing characterization, that helps to paint connective intention, without contemporary spoon-feeding, which has unfortunately become a constant. Instead, we bank on the registries of the actors, but also the spontaneity of the deliveries to paint the bigger pictures, garnering an improvisation that succeeds without halting the progression of the scene’s structure. Speaking as such, the lines equally help to build the suspense in a way that corresponds terrifically with composer Marcelo Zarvos’ elevation in instrumental captivity, giving this a periodically operatic channeling of Shakesperian proportions. It helps to hold the audience firmly in the palms of the dynamics of people engaged on the line with one another, and offers an invasively inescapable progression that audibly paints everything that we cannot see.
– Shape-shifting twist. It would be easy enough for Pizzolatto and Fuqua to rest on the laurels of their technical accomplishment, but they engage the audience in an invigoratingly tense narrative that culminates with a third act climax that I honestly didn’t see coming. What’s so profoundly inspiring about this bend in conventional cinematic logic, is it takes a sociological stereotype, and distorts it in a way that should be easy enough to pick up on, but isn’t for the way Hollywood conventionalism has unfortunately influenced how we see certain people. Even if people do pick up on it in a way that I didn’t, I think it still will be indisputable that it redefines the stakes and situations in a way that was previously unforeseen, and sets matters up for the arc of Gyllenhaal’s Joe to come full circle with his own internal demons.
– One stage setting. Usually there’s a lot of momentum lost or redundancy instilled to a movie that stays planted consistently in one consistent location, but everything that I previously mentioned about Fuqua’s direction, as well as the procedural itself unfolding before our very eyes, supplants this story in the place it should be at all times. Sure, there are the occasional flashes of a car body or a front door to serve as temporary dramatizations to what we’re being told in the foreground of this story, but even with those brief flashes, it never abandons our jaded lead character, which I feel only adds to the level of mystery from characters we can only read or interpret with inflections in their vocal ranges. It’s also the perfect place for expositional outlines with regards to Joe’s background, which can be illustrated not only in the way he rudely abuses fellow co-workers, but also in the way his own life’s priorities overstep the boundaries of the career at hand.
– As a remake. Fortunately, a majority of audiences haven’t seen the Danish original of the same name that this film is based on. I say that because this script here, while compelling to the finish line, is mostly retelling of 2017 that originally did so. Why this is problematic is because it not only dwindles the necessity of this remake to once again add to another reheated derivative series of leftovers that are all the rave by American standards, but it also makes it entirely predictable for anyone who fell in love with that original story, and sought this installment out seeking some level of justification when compared to that original film. As far as scenes go, they are often repeated, sometimes line for line, and considering the endings are nearly identical, with only slight deviations for the cultural cause, it left me disappointed that the enhancements are purely on a technical level, and never on a thematic one.
– Incoherent message. While a film like this doesn’t necessarily require a message that audiences can take away from it moments after, it still contains one that I’m not entirely sure the events of the movie earned seamlessly. For my money, the message is a call to self-awareness, mirroring the lack of compassion that we show for others sometimes, and why such a hinderance is important with regards to work and other nourishing relationships. It touches on this with a couple of scenes, but the fully illustrated execution feels stalled at around the halfway point of this narrative, and reaching for after effects on Joe’s transformation in a way that doesn’t feel fully earned with the resolution that the film leaves us on. These are where the moments of downtime in between the various calls could help to flesh out an internal transformation, made easier by an additional ten minutes to the sparse 88 minute run time, that feels a bit too catered to the urgency of the storytelling.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+