Netflix review: Jake Gyllenhaal is intensely involving in 'The Guilty'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Oct 02 2021 09:51 AM

Jake Gyllenhaal in 'The Guilty'
Jake Gyllenhaal in 'The Guilty'

Officer Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) was a hot-headed, arrogant 911-operator of the LAPD communications officer serving the Los Angeles area. During one very busy night duty, he received a distressed call from a woman named Emily Lighton who had been abducted in a white van. Minutes later, he received a call from a six-year old girl who might be Emily's daughter, describing how her daddy just took her mommy away with a knife. 

This tense drama never left the 911 call center where Joe worked. The whole thing was practically a one-man show for Jake Gyllenhaal as he was the one face we see as Joe fielded calls from various distressed callers during one stressful night shift while mountains of LA was ablaze with forest fires. Once Joe heard Emily's pitifully plaintive voice though, he got obsessed with helping this particular woman caller, even it went beyond his duty. 

Gyllenhall possessed the screen with sheer passion and electricity. His Joe was so highly-strung and emotionally labile, it was painful to watch him go through a hell of a night duty. His stress-induced asthma was already acting up. He was set to testify in court the next morning in a case that might get him in jail. His marriage was also in shambles as he is estranged from his wife Jess and kept away from his daughter whom he missed like crazy. 

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Those voices we hear on the phone -- Emily (Riley Keough), her husband Henry (Peter Skarsgaard), little Abby (Christina Montoya) -- we never see their faces at all, but this made the film all the more compelling, as the full story of that family slowly unfolded for Joe, and for us. Joe also talked to policemen outside to help him, Sgt. Bill Miller (Ethan Hawke), his ex-partner Rick (Eli Goree) and the CHP Dispatcher (Da'Vine Joy Randolph). 

This riveting thriller was skillfully directed by Antoine Fuqua, from a screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto adapted from a 2018 Danish film of the same name (which I have not seen yet). This had considerably less action than Fuqua's famous works like "Training Day" (2001), "Olympus Has Fallen" (2013) and "The Equalizer" (2014), but excitement remained intact all the way through. 

This was Gylenhaal's show through and through, and he powerfully delivered as only he can. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."