A new Netflix thriller, streaming from Friday night, The Guilty remakes a Danish film with an irresistible premise. Jake Gyllenhaal may be firing on all cylinders for director Antoine Fuqua – but, as Tony Stamp writes, transplanting this particular story to America proves ruinous.
The 2018 Danish thriller The Guilty came with a neat elevator pitch: it follows a police officer assigned to answer emergency calls, as he deals with an unfolding situation on the other end of the line. Innovative in how it used its single-location setting, it was ripe for a Hollywood reinvention.
Sure enough, that same year Jake Gyllenhaal snapped up the rights and announced he’d produce and star in a remake, with more pedigree added courtesy of Training Day director Antoine Fuqua and True Detective writer Nic Pizzolatto.
Disappointingly, what we get is a beat-for-beat retread of the original, save for a smidge more Hollywood treacle near the end. The story itself is very gripping, and clever in the way it treats its central gimmick. And Gyllenhaal is firing on all cylinders, as per. But transplanting this particular story to America is ruinous in ways that completely misread the public perception of cops in 2021. Particularly Los Angeles cops.
Given the talent involved, I hoped the remake might stake out its own territory, especially with the huge difference between countries. Fuqua adds some police helicopters over the LA skyline at the start, and a few external shots of flashing police lights. I don’t remember these being part of the original, and unfortunately they only deflate the pressure cooker tension of Gyllenhaal getting increasingly wound up in his cramped work space. They also help glorify him in a way I don’t think the original intended.
You can see why the story happening on the other end of the phone has been left untouched—it’s a cracker, and while Pizzolatto has added a few macho-isms, it mostly emerges in the same precise, engrossing way, playing out like a great radio play or podcast as we linger on Gyllenhaal‘s reactions.
He’s great, barely holding it together even before he’s pulled into the phone drama. As the movie goes on it confirms his already apparent anger issues, and we learn more about his recent past. The voices on the phone are top-tier caliber talent as well, including Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough and Peter Sarsgaard. They all get their brief moments in the spotlight.
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But I think a lot of people will be left unsettled by the ending, which allows a character some redemption that is completely unearned. I can’t get my head around this team of filmmakers thinking ‘you know who gets a bad rap? Trigger-happy LA cops’ and hinging their film on an audience having sympathy for them. It’s baffling, and undoes a lot of the good work up until then. My eyes started to roll with around five minutes to go; by the end I could barely see straight.