Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review – The Guilty (2021)

We all have the same reaction to any sort of remake, be it a soft reboot, a reimagining, or something old made new but when it concerns an English-language reworking of a non-English language film that was perfectly fine the way it was, we can’t help but sigh. Such is the case with The Guilty, a US-based remake of a 2018 thriller that was considered one of the best films of that year and, so good was it, that the thought of a remake felt, like many other examples, almost sacrilegious. And yet, here we are.

Add to the mix the filmmaker behind the most recent remake of The Magnificent Seven (why?!) and the moans and groans have certainly gotten louder but despite the original still ultimately being superior, this one might surprise a few not least thanks to yet another sensational turn from Jake Gyllenhaal.

Joe (Gyllenhaal) is working the 911 call centre after being demoted from his role as a police officer on one of his normal shifts against the backdrop of the ever-increasing uncertainties and pressures of local wildfires in Los Angeles. One call, however, is different: on the other end of the line is a distressed woman named Emily (Riley Keough) who claims she has been kidnapped by her husband, Henry (Peter Sarsgaard). Compelled to follow his instincts as an officer, Joe soon becomes somewhat obsessed by the call and, despite his now limited capacities, wants to find Emily but the truth about the situation, and himself, will shape his decisions forevermore.

Maybe we are in a small minority when it comes to the latest film from Antoine Fuqua as his output of films is, at best, much like this writer’s favourite football club Tottenham Hotspur in the late 1990s and early 2000s: full of promise and potential, but ridiculously inconsistent. He will also have the kudos of many for bringing Training Day to the screen but since then it’s been all very hit and miss, despite the big box office successes of The Equalizer and Olympus Has Fallen. Earlier this year, his new film Infinite became the first new film to debut on Paramount’s new streaming platform (it wasn’t the original idea, mind) and was ravaged by critics but The Guilty sees him on much sturdier footing, with Nic Pizzolatto‘s twisty, psychologically rich screenplay supporting his kinetic direction.

Those expecting a typically ferocious film from Fuqua will be pleased with the end result – he sometimes can’t help himself with being overly taught – but this one goes deeper, feels rawer than many of his previous efforts, not least due to Gyllenhaal’s profound central turn and his character’s arc of self-depreciation, grief and ultimate forgiveness for his sins, and those around him.

Coiled like a spring, the pressure of Joe’s choices in his life and his now volatile nature, soon eat him up inside until the chance encounters over some phone exchanges stretch them until they can take no more, all of which are beautifully laid bare by Gyllenhaal. It’s nice to have him back after what feels like an eternity, and his complexities and artistry as a performer are still second to none and no one can come close to him in terms of his abilities in the modern era of acting talents.

★★★


Drama, Thriller | Cert: tbc | Toronto International Film Festival, 12 and 14 September 2021.|Dir. Antoine Fuqua | Jake Gyllenhaal, Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Christina Vidal Mitchell, Eli Goree, Da’Vine Joy Randolph