Reel Reviews | The Guilty (TIFF ’21)

by Kate Erbland | IndieWire

It’s tempting to say only Jake Gyllenhaal could play the tricky leading role of a disgraced police officer in Antoine Fuqua’s jittery “The Guilty,” but that would be silly because icy star Jakob Cedergren did play this role — in Gustav Moller’s 2018 original. But Cedergren never went quite so crazy, got so explosive, so positively unhinged. Star-producer Gyllenhaal, who bought the rights to Moller’s film almost right out the gate, makes the film his own.

For the most part, it works. The same can be said about the film as a whole, which has gotten a snazzy, Americanized update that will likely thrill newcomers to the story and satisfy fans of the original. If you’ve seen Moller’s “The Guilty,” well, you’ve basically seen Fuqua’s, but Gyllenhaal’s performance adds a go-for-broke turn that capitalizes on the actor’s deep emotional reserves. Nic Pizzolatto’s adaptation is not as tightly wound as the original’s (penned by Moller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen), but it does build in fresh touches that add resonance.

This version of “The Guilty” is set in Los Angeles during the height of wildfire season and, as a few quick flashes of newsreel reveal, also a period of societal unrest. Fire of all kinds is raging, and smoke chokes the air, but officer Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal) can’t quite catch his breath: He’s got raging asthma and seriously fucked-up personal and professional lives. Forced to toil at the city’s 911 dispatch center — a punishment for reasons that slowly reveal themselves — Joe’s bad attitude is at a fever pitch. He’s pissed off at the world, and the world appears to be pissed off right back at him.

Fuqua and production designer Peter Wenham render the dispatch center as a glossy, wide-open affair packed with big screens, all the better to televise the many horrible things unfolding in real-time. Joe’s job is easy enough — pick up the call, ascertain location and issue, dispatch the authorities to help, move on. Of no help is Joe’s bad attitude, especially in a gig he so desperately does not want, and he approaches most callers with obvious disdain. Some deserve it, like the whiny businessman who was clearly robbed by a sex worker and is intent on special treatment because he’s a friend of the mayor; others do not, desperately seeking help for problems they can’t solve on their own.

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