Review: Though An Intriguing Idea, 'The Guilty' is Bogged Down With Subplots

by Padraic Maroney

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 24, 2021

'The Guilty'
'The Guilty'  (Source:Netflix)

Streaming services sometimes get a bad rap for their original movies, basically being considered the direct-to-video bargain bin of the digital age. But these platforms aren't worried about the bottom line, regarding trying to make sure each film turns a profit, the way that studios are, which allows them to create projects that are riskier and that studios wouldn't dream to make. "The Guilty," Netflix's latest gamble, is packed with talent, but would work better as a podcast.

Based on the Danish film of the same name, "The Guilty" is an intriguing idea: Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cop working an overnight shift as a 911 operator, receives a call from a woman who says she has been kidnapped and is being held against her will. Unlike similar films, like Halle Berry's "The Call," viewers are only shown the call center and provided the same information that Joe has. Without venturing out to show the callers, the film is able to provide twists and surprises throughout its run time.

The reason "The Guilty" is a riskier film to make, despite the pedigree involved, is because it asks the audience to fully pay attention to what they are hearing. This isn't a movie that you can watch while doing other things, because it all unfolds over the phone, and you need to be listening. (So don't be scrolling around on the internet.)

With that being said, as valiant an effort as "The Guilty" is — and despite how closely it hews to its source material — the film just never quite kicks into high gear. It gets bogged down with the impending criminal investigation that has landed Joe on desk duty. The problem with the subplot is that it's not able to really be explored in the setting of the film, so it remans a half-baked element that serves as more of a distraction that anything else.

Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") directs the film with a firm hand that is able to wring tension from the script by Nic Pizzolatto (who's responsible for creating HBO's "True Detective"). It helps that he has assembled a first-rate cast, even though most of them you only ever hear. Joining Gyllenhaal are Ethan Hawke as his former sergeant, Peter Sarsgaard as the alleged kidnapper, and comedian Bill Burr. Fuqua has worked with many in the cast previously, which allows for a level of comfort that might not be available without those preexisting relationships.

Watching "The Guilty" is almost like listening to a podcast. The film hits its stride while dealing with the main kidnapping plot, but it's guilty of getting bogged down with the personal demons that Joe is battling. As such, film doesn't necessarily hit it out of the park, but it's an interesting exercise that Netflix should be applauded for bringing to American audiences who might have missed the original film.

"The Guilty" is in select theaters on September 24, 2021 and streaming on Netflix beginning October 1, 2021.