Directed by Antoine Fuqua, and based on the 2018 Danish film of the same name, The Guilty is a (largely) one-room crime thriller following a demoted cop working in a 911 dispatch centre. When he receives a distressing call from a kidnapped woman, he becomes determined to save her at all costs.
The success of The Guilty hinges on two things – its ability to create a sense of building tension, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Firstly, I must say there is absolutely no shortage of tension throughout this entire film. Sitting at a tight 90 minutes, it wastes no time in kicking the main story into gear – setting up some key character-specific story beats early and then moving along at a very calculated pace. What I love about the restricted setting and incredibly small character list is that there’s no narrative distractions. The entire focus of almost every single minute, from beginning to end, is centred around the rescue of this abducted woman. It doesn’t waste a single second on subplots that go nowhere or unconnected side-character arcs – it’s all hinged around the rescue of this woman and the inner conflict of Gyllenhaal’s character.
This level of focus in the narrative and the intense nature of a number of scenes really does lock you in and put you on the edge of your seat, leading to some seriously nail-biting moments. Antoine Fuqua, who directed this movie entirely from the confines of a van outside the room where this was filmed, does a stellar job in heightening the tension through the claustrophobic nature of the filmmaking. Teaming up with cinematographer Maz Makhani, they create this feeling of no escape, as if there’s nothing Gyllenhaal’s character can do because he’s limited to the confines of his desk. It has a similar feel to Netflix’s Criminal: UK, a psychological thriller/crime drama set entirely within two rooms and a hallway, which also applies constant tension incredibly well.
Being on screen for almost every single second, Jake Gyllenhaal carries this entire film on his shoulders – delivering a truly spectacular performance that you just cannot take your eyes off. He’s such a master of his craft that he makes it easy for us to understand every thought and emotion running through his character’s mind. The way he delivers each line with varying levels of desperation, complete with inflections of pain, fear and sadness is truly remarkable to watch. It really is an emotional rollercoaster of a story thanks entirely to Gyllenhaal’s performance. It should also be noted that the voice performances of Riley Keough and Ethan Hawke, among others, can be heard over the various phone calls, and they do a really solid job. It’s hard to gauge their impact since we never see them and they have limited lines of dialogue, but I thought they were both pretty good as their characters.
In the end, The Guilty is a non-stop thrill ride that leaves you in constant anticipation for what’s going to happen next. The re-teaming of Antoine Fuqua and Jake Gyllenhaal is a stellar pairing that I’d love to see a lot more, as they’ve created a real gem here. It’s a delicately focused narrative where everything that happens is crucial to furthering the story and leading towards a brilliantly tense third act. I’d say if claustrophobic crime thrillers are your thing, then The Guilty is certainly one to check out.