Cinematic experiences are amazing at what they can do, especially when the scope of the film in question is limited in an inventive fashion. Director Antoine Fuqua’s Netflix original The Guilty is one such film that audiences will finding themselves discussing, partially because Fuqua slickly directs the American adaptation of the 2018 Danish original, written by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto. But what really holds this film together is the intense performance from Jake Gyllenhaal that completely riveted me throughout this single-location thriller.
Jake Gyllenhaal, re-teaming with friend and Southpaw director Antoine Fuqua, plays Joe Bayler, who serves as the main gateway into The Guilty’s close quarters potboiler. Temporarily demoted to 911 dispatch duty after an incident we slowly learn about through the unwinding story, we see Joe running through various emergency service calls while a wildfire rages across California. It doesn’t take long before a mysterious call draws him into an ongoing crisis that involves an abduction, and this is where Gyllenhaal’s chops start to really shine.
Throughout the first act of the lightning-fast running time The Guilty operates within, we’re given clues to Joe Bayler’s mysterious past, as well as what kind of man Joe really is, in how he handles 911 calls. As Jake Gyllenhaal’s character navigates through a world he’d rather not have anything to do with, we don’t see Joe Bayler change into a miraculously better person. We’re given a much more interesting possibility: a man who’s learned to care again through the act of trying to save a life.
However, that’s not through the typical car chases, shootouts or nighttime drives you’d expect in other law enforcement dramas. The Guilty is a single location drama that more or less focuses solely on Jake Gyllenhaal. We’re introduced to other characters and shown small glimpses of the events happening on the other end of the calls that Joe Bayler takes. But for almost the entire movie, we’re watching Gyllenhaal handle everything from his dispatch console, with his actions and reactions coloring our entire perception of The Guilty.
Various shades of restraint are exhibited by The Guilty’s would-be hero, and Jake Gyllenhaal gets to make the most of the role of Joe Bayler. It’s a far cry from the more exaggerated work that the actor has done through films like Nightcrawler and Velvet Buzzsaw. Though he may not be flying off the handle, Gyllenhaal is still providing an intensity on par with those earlier madmen he’s portrayed. It's just rather than engaging in villainous menace, Gyllenhaal's Joe Bayler is truly wrestling with matters that literally make him sick to his stomach, which allows for a couple of outbursts that display his trademark manic energy.
Shot in takes that run as long as possible without cutting, Antoine Fuqua understands just what makes Mr. Gyllenhaal one of the prime actors in the modern world of film. So when The Guilty called for cameras to be on his lead at all times, Fuqua obviously tackled the challenge with great gusto. The shorthand between director and collaborator is at its peak in this movie, especially considering Jake Gyllenhaal approached Antoine Fuqua with the script to The Guilty. Trusting each other in close quarters, Gyllenhaal fully accepts that the events presented are all about him, but he never shortchanges the other actors that come into play.
The Guilty is a pretty quick and focused thrill ride, with some very human questions asked and answered. And the greatest compliment that can be paid to Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Joe is the fact that he is the main reason this movie flies by. Even in scenes where you could take your eyes off him for a brief moment, you wouldn’t want to, as he disappears into another hallmark role on his resume.
After its recent showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Guilty will be headed to limited theatrical release on September 24. Netflix subscribers will get to enjoy the film in the comfort of their own homes when it heads to the streaming studio’s library on October 12. No matter how you enjoy the film, if you’re a Jake Gyllenhaal fan, The Guilty is something you’ll absolutely want to experience as freshly as possible.