TV/Film Reviews

Film Review: ‘The Guilty’ (dir. Antoine Fuqua) | TIFF 2021

It’s a simple enough premise, but what is done within the timeframe of this film honestly made for some of the most thrilling, intense, fully consuming work I’ve ever seen.

The Guilty is set over course of about 90 minutes of Joe Baylor’s (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) job as a 911 call operator at a dispatch center, and he is on a race to save a caller. I really don’t want to get more detailed than that if I don’t have to, because it’s really something that’s better experienced than to read.

It’s a simple enough premise, but what is done within the timeframe of this film honestly made for some of the most thrilling, intense, fully consuming work I’ve ever seen.

I was surprised at the stellar supporting voice cast that kept popping in throughout this. Some are immediately recognizable (yeah, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Bill Burr, and Eli Goree, I’m talking about you) while others took me a minute to decipher (Riley Keough, Ethan Hawke, and Peter Sarsgaard, who have all made a living out of being chameleons with their work).

Jake Gyllenhaal’s passionate performance is so convincing. The expression is written right across his face. His eyes tell a story that simply can’t be scripted.  There are so many stretches of long one-takes that occupy this film, focusing on on Gyllenhaal’s face.

The non-stop events play out in real-time, making for an even more relentless look into this line of work. My blood was pumping during this one, I’m going to be honest. The overlapping crises made me in utter suspense to see it through to its resolution.

The limited viewpoint forces you to imagine the imagery for yourself in your head, which might be more terrifying than what anyone else could’ve depicted on screen.

I can already see the comparisons people are going to draw between this and the FOX series “9-1-1” due to their similar setting and focus on law enforcement. The Guilty differs, though, because we remained focused on 911 operator, Joe Baylor, the entire time rather than following firefighters, police officers, and EMTs to the calls.

There’s a new development in the story that comes about two-thirds of the way through that just made my stomach churn. I didn’t see it coming, even with everything being thrown at the audience, so I hope you’re able to similarly experience that twist.

Then, as if the story wasn’t enough to have you gripping your armrests and pressing your feet against the floor, the score comes in and makes the hair on your neck stand straight up. Marcelo Zarvos did an incredible job composing the music for this score.

The confined setting almost made this read as a play adaptation, and while I sometimes find that to be too constrained for some stories, I hardly noticed that by the end, it had primarily taken place inside the 911 room.

As much as I loved it, I can’t imagine I will ever be able to put my body through this rollercoaster again. It’s a whole body experience. When this ended, I felt drained but at the same time couldn’t sit still just from the pure adrenaline of it all.

Jake Gyllenhaal deserves an award for this. The camera was on him for virtually the entire movie, reading on-screen almost as if it were a one-man play. His charisma and devotion to the role make that nonstop camerawork so much more effective than it should be.

The Guilty premiered during the Toronto International Film Festival this year. Netflix is set to release the film theatrically on September 24 and on Netflix on October 1.


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