Netflix The Guilty Review: Jake Gyllenhaal’s Solo Performance Is Explosive And Exciting – Amber Sunner
Warning this article contains spoilers
Netflix’s new thriller The Guilty follows Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), a 911 operator, on possibly one of the most stressful nights of his time dealing with phones. As wildfires spread across California and the constant reminder of destruction on giant TV screens at the front of the room, response time is drastically hampered. As smoke pervades the city, the film mimics that energy in its one-room location. The feeling of claustrophobia kicks in when Joe receives a fateful call that consumes his night.
The Guilty cast is heard rather than seen – an interesting concept director Antoine Fuqua seemed to realize. The story is told through a series of phone calls that see Emily Lighton, played by Riley Keough, calling 911 in significant distress after being kidnapped by her ex-husband Henry (Peter Sarsgaard). As Joe tries to locate Emily, he becomes confused and restless. His asthma held him back all the more because he was exasperated by the smoke from the fires. One hand on the inhaler, the other on the call answer button nm
The operating room acts like a pressure cooker, and we see Joe’s mood start to rise as the night progresses. We soon learn the reason for his bad attitude; the evening marks the day before his trial for the murder of a 19-year-old boy, which is why he uses phones. A demotion for the murder, and Joe hates what he does. Joe takes Emily’s case seriously, perhaps too seriously, as he rejects other distress calls. He does it for his own selfish motives, “I can’t kill you too,” he tells Emily, trying to find some purpose in his life since he stole someone’s hers.
The film captivates viewers as it follows Joe’s attempts to locate the van Emily is in. Phone calls to various departments, Henry and Emily, their child Abby, and Joe’s court witness Rick all help the audience piece together the complex story. But then we find a dramatic twist in Emily’s story. The whole plot is tossed into the air as the story is entirely subverted, leaving audiences in shock. The sense of urgency is greatly increased.
As Joe ponders the weight of his mistake of getting involved without knowing the facts, he becomes angry with himself and those around him, speaking timidly and without thinking. Joe is also pissed off after an intense phone call with his estranged wife. The strained relationship means Joe stays in an Airbnb, watches too much TV, and is isolated in his life. His daughter Paige, who is his lock screen photo, is staying with his mom, and at the end of the movie, Joe has an impossible decision that will affect how much he sees his daughter.
The film ends with Joe phoning Rick and he explains how he will argue in court despite the consequences on his life. A looping moment is seen as Gyllenhaal’s character somewhat overcomes the intense anger we see from him over the duration of the film and ultimately redeems himself.
The film is brilliantly narrated through a headset, showing the power of Gyllenhaal’s acting to carry the film virtually on his own. This is an English remake of a 2018 Danish film. It means that the cinema evolves with the changing times. It was shot in 11 days during the pandemic, further showcasing the talent of everyone involved. It is a product of its time, and it is a perfect representation of the flourishing arts in all circumstances. I recommend you watch it, and with a viewing time of 1.5 hours, it’s easy to digest in one sitting.
4.5 / 5
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