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Jake Gyllenhaal Dials Up A Killer Performance in “The Guilty” (Review)

Confession: I was skeptical when I learned that there was an English-language remake of Gustav Möller’s debut film, “The Guilty” (“Den skyldige”), on the way.

I caught the original at Austin’s Fantastic Fest back in 2018 and it was the Danish submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards.

What I said about “The Guilty” at the time holds just as true in this well-honed update from director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) – this is “an outrageously tense and effective movie that hinges entirely on a bravura performance.”

In the American version, that lead role is covered by Jake Gyllenhaal. He plays Joe Baylor, a police officer who has been taken off the streets and thrown into a 911 call center.

We meet Joe on his last night taking calls. He’s abrasive and cranky and clearly doesn’t want to be there hearing from people with fairly minor issues like a man robbed by a prostitute in his car or a guy who has had bicycle accident.

One fateful call from a woman who has been kidnapped by her ex-husband changes everything and turns Joe’s last shift upside down.

If you don’t already know what is about to happen, it’s best to avoid knowing many details before you press play. Part of the ratcheting suspense is that we experience everything in real time, the same as Joe does. As a blurry situation comes into focus with repeated phone calls, things go from bad to worse relatively quickly. 

“True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto adapts the original screenplay in several subtle ways, but this is a faithful remake across the board. Even if, like me, you know the twists and turns that lie ahead, it still works because Gyllenhaal gives a masterful performance that is brilliantly expressive and emotionally charged.

There are not many other actors who actually get to share the screen with Gyllenhaal in the same room, but there is terrific voice acting here that propels the story adds to the realism. In particular, I would like to note how incredible Da’vine Joy Randolph is as a California Highway Patrol dispatcher along with Riley Keough as Emily, the kidnapped woman, and Ethan Hawke as Joe’s former police sergeant. Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard, and Bill Burr are among some of other fine actors who we only get to hear on the other end of the line.

In “The Guilty,” Gyllenhaal helps turn phone calls into an edge-of-your-seat thriller. If you enjoyed in his unhinged “Nightcrawler” performance, you are not going to want to hesitate to put this at the top of your queue.

“The Guilty” is playing in select theaters and begins streaming today on Netflix. If you want to check out the original Danish version, it is available to stream on Hulu.

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