Making a call to the emergency services is likely to be one of the most traumatic moments of our lives. As our world falls apart, there is someone on the other end of the line doing their daily job. So it is for LAPD officer Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal) working the night shift at a 911 call centre in The Guilty.
Stationed there in lieu of an upcoming court hearing due to a previous ‘incident’, Joe takes a call from a terrified sounding woman who clearly can’t talk due to the company she is in.
The scenario plays out entirely from Joe’s point of view as he goes from logging the call to trying to push services on the ground to respond to the likely kidnapping.
The camera never leaves the call centre so the entire plot plays out through Joe’s calls, which later include colleagues with personal history, and a frightened child left home alone.
The Guilty makes good use of this real-time dynamic to keep the tension high throughout its 90-minute run time. A taut performance from Gyllenhaal locks you onto the screen as his desperation to help goes beyond the remit of his job, all the while dodging calls from a reporter seeking his comment on his upcoming court appearance due tomorrow.
The Guilty Official Trailer
Virtually every other major character appears in voice only. Riley Keough and Peter Sarsgaard feature as the woman in distress and the man she is with, whilst Ethan Hawke (Moon Knight) and David Castañeda (The Umbrella Academy) also turn up as cops as the ordeal plays out.
Gyllenhaal has the camera virtually glued to his face as he harangues people in blinkered pursuit of trying to save the distraught female caller.
In a plot where all information is conveyed verbally, there is room for twists and wiggles as half-truths are played out. However, The Guilty acts like a small onion, peeling away only a few layers over the short run time.
Clues emerge about the incident that has landed Joe in court, whilst his attempts to push along efforts to save the woman caller take a left turn.
Otherwise, the plot plays out as a pretty straight real-time tension tool, which Gyllenhaal is excellently cast to bring to life.
Is The Guilty Worth Watching?
The movie is a US remake of an acclaimed 2018 Danish film of the same name, and it is clear that Americanisation has polished it beyond its origins with predictable results.
Gone is the purposefully drab call centre look of the original (designed to show that these life and death workers exist in standard office surroundings) and instead, things are more in keeping with standard upmarket tech and slick looking monitors.
Similarly, the tone of the ending is tweaked insofar as Joe’s honest words to the woman are spoken in private, rather than overheard by his colleagues.
In both versions the character had already come to a decision in a separate phone call so this change doesn’t lessen the remake. Instead, it subtly places the power in Joe’s hands instead of circumstance limiting his options which is a tonal choice.
The simplicity of The Guilty is both its appeal and its potential heel. There are times when conversations are padded out with cajoling and filler words seemingly to fill the run time.
Despite moments where the wheels spin a little, the singular focus on Gyllenhaal and his efforts make for edge of the seat stuff throughout.
The Guilty won’t plead for repeated viewing as the tension comes from waiting to see how things will play out. Gyllenhaal’s character work is a superb in-the-moment experience to be enjoyed as it is before you, should you take the call.
Words by Mike Record