Review by David Baldwin
A wildfire is raging through Los Angeles and police officer Joe Bayler (Jake Gyllenhaal) is winding down the clock on his shift at the 911-dispatch centre. He has a court date in the morning for something that happened while he is on the job and is ducking calls from a persistent LA Times Reporter. While the shift has been hectic and trying for his Asthma, it gets a whole lot worse when Joe gets a call from Emily (Riley Keough). She pretends to be talking to her young daughter when really she is telling Joe that her ex-husband has abducted her. Going into fight or flight mode, Joe takes down the few details she gives him and sets out to save her – all while staying behind the desk and on the phone with LA law enforcement.
While there are a few other actors on-screen during THE GUILTY (an Americanized remake of a Danish film from 2018), the majority of the Film focuses squarely on Gyllenhaal’s increasingly manic and psychologically distressing performance as he communicates entirely with the ensemble Supporting Cast (which includes the likes of Keough, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard and Paul Dano) over a device. That may not sound exciting, but THE GUILTY ends up feeling like one of the most intense, white-knuckle Thrillers of the year. Director Antoine Fuqua (last at TIFF with 2016’s Opening Night film The Magnificent Seven) gradually ratchets-up the tension to unbearable heights, moving the story in equally shocking and terrifying terrains – all while never leaving the call centre. Fuqua creates a breathless atmosphere that rarely slows down and makes scenes of Gyllenhaal dialing on a keypad be more nerve shredding than you might have ever thought possible.
The Supporting Cast on the phone is great, yet they never have a chance to compete with Gyllenhaal, who is positively electric throughout THE GUILTY’s 90-minute running time. His desperation is palpable and the way he screams into a phone is enough to leave you shaken for days. He says so much with his bloodshot, emotionally dominant eyes and consistently reminds you exactly why he is one of the very best actors working in the business today. He commands the screen no matter what he is doing, and where others might overact their way through this kind of performance, Gyllenhaal pivots to something more nuanced and measured that quickly becomes positively spellbinding. I was sweating and clutching my seat every second I watched him on-screen, and may have been broken some blood vessels in my face during some of the unspeakable twists. It may get a bit outrageous and unrealistic, but the combination of Fuqua and Gyllenhaal here make for a gripping picture you will not soon forget.
THE GUILTY screens at TIFF ’21:
Sat, Sep 11 Princess of Wales 9:00 PM
Sun, Sep 12 digital TIFF Bell Lightbox 3:00 PM
Mon, Sep 13 RBC Lakeside Drive-In at Ontario Place 9:00 PM
Sat, Sep 18 digital TIFF Bell Lightbox 7:00 PM
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