Happy Thursday and happy fall. Today’s recommendation is for the thriller The Guilty starring Jake Gyllenhaal, which will be available on Netflix tomorrow.
Also, we had trailers galore this week. I give a rundown of the most notable below. Have a terrific weekend! — Karl
The Guilty, a remake of the 2018 Danish film of the same name, is a masterclass in adapting a non-English language film for American audiences. The trend of making English-language versions of acclaimed and successful foreign films has been picking up steam to mostly negative results — I’m looking at you Downhill. And more often than not, it’s because the studios commissioning these films don’t understand what makes them successful in the first place. That’s not the case with Antione Fuqua’s adaptation, which premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
Fuqua, best known for thrillers like The Equalizer and directing Denzel Washington to an Oscar for Training Day, doesn’t set out to recreate the Danish film. He’s too singular of a filmmaker for that. Rather, he filters the original’s plot through a distinctly American — and Fuqua — lens.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Joe, a former police officer relegated to 911 dispatch duty pending his trial. The reason for his suspension is kept close to the vest. However, Joe’s discontentment with the situation is not. He regularly snaps at co-workers, has coughing bouts that are caused by the wildfire smoke in the air (and maybe something more mental), and regularly pushes the boundaries of his job by often talking back at 911 callers.
And that’s why when a woman named Emily (Riley Keough) calls feigning talking to her child Joe takes it upon himself to solve the case. Unfolding in real-time and the most intense episode of Law & Order: SVU, Joe realizes that Emily was taken against her will by her estranged husband Henry (Paul Dano) leaving her six-year-old daughter and infant son alone at home.
Coordinating with the California Highway Patrol, his partner Jim (Eli Goree), and various others and armed only with the information in the police database, Joe attempts to find Emily before it’s too late. That part of the plot is similar to the Danish version. However, in the background of all this — and throughout the screenplay written by True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto — the wildfires and general distrust in the police loom large. That change alone validates the American version’s existence.
There are many twists and turns that we only hear through calls that come through with the brilliant immersive sound design that puts us firmly in Joe’s point of view. Being in his point of view and watching the film unfold in real-time adds a sense of urgency, desperation, and helplessness. And while Fuqua’s smart directorial choices are one reason for this, Gyllenhaal’s terrific performance is captivating. It’s especially impressive considering he never leaves the screen for a single second of the film.
As thrilling as it is to unpack The Guilty as a police procedural what makes it great — and an Oscar contender for Netflix — is its grounding as a character study into toxic masculinity and the psychological effects of giving power to a person. Joe, our “hero,” brings his own outside circumstances to the situation — his own separation from his wife and daughter, his impending case — and uses that to motivate his decision-making for better or worse. He changes throughout the film. We watch as this case tears away at his psyche before the dam breaks — and with it, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance soars.
3️⃣ trailers you should watch
Spencer (dir. Pablo Larraín)
In theaters Nov. 5
The Humans (dir. Stephen Karam)
In theaters Nov. 24
Read my full review from TIFF here.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (dir. Joel Coen)
In theaters Dec. 25.