In the remake of the Danish thriller THE GUILTY Antoine Fuqua lets us experience a gruesome crime – starting from a police switchboard. In our review we will reveal whether the Kammerspiel can keep up with the original.
OT: The Guilty (USA 2021)
The plot summary
With a fragile voice, Emily Lighton (Riley Keough) calls the Los Angeles police. Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is assigned to work in the emergency call center, is about to hang up because Emily is talking to a child and doesn’t seem to respond to his answers. But then he realizes that Emily is acting as if she’s talking to a small child for a frightening reason: Emily wants to discreetly ask for police help. Now Joe is doing everything he can to get the situation straightened out…
One might think: the closer a remake is to the original, the easier it is to criticize. If it’s almost the same film twice, you could easily republish the review of the original version – just swap the names first. That doesn’t work with remakes like Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” or Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book.” But: With unimaginative remakes, the review almost degenerates into an obsessive weighing of all the differences – or at least requires the member of the film press who knows the original and the remake to do exactly that in their thoughts in order to then be able to express why two films with so few differences are like this can have different effects. “The Guilty” is a remake that demands such criticism. In “The Guilty”, “True Detective” author Nic Pizzolatto and “The Equalizer” director Antoine Fuqua follow the successful Danish thriller of the same name. The same plot, similar characters, even many of the dialogues, if not copied 1:1, are at least essentially the same.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the US remake of “The Guilty”.
For Netflix subscribers who have not seen the Danish original, this represents a real stroke of luck for the film, which is currently well placed in the streaming charts. Because the original by director/author Gustav Möller and author Emil Nygaard Albertsen follows a gripping starting point and implements it with a sure hand: a police officer assigned to the emergency telephone service receives a question-raising, worrying call from a panicked woman – and therefore sets everything Leverage to protect them. He also goes far beyond his authority. Tension inevitably arises from the questions “What is the full picture of this emergency?” and “How will it end?”, additional suspense comes from the mental cinema that “The Guilty” causes. After all, we only get what the protagonist hears in the emergency call center. Fuqua, Pizzolatto and lead actor/producer Jake Gyllenhaal (“Stronger”) are professional enough not to destroy the obvious strengths of the original – and anyone who doesn’t know the original will be captivated by the straightforwardly implemented, unpredictable thriller. However, if you put “The Guilty” from Denmark and “The Guilty” from the USA next to each other, detailed decisions become obvious that cannot be kept quiet. The fact that Fuqua gives his version a little more size – with shots of a Los Angeles enveloped in the smoke of a nearby fire and a more bombastic, technically sophisticated telephone exchange – that surrounds the film – can be seen, for example, as a mixture of zeitgeist (large fires are now an almost constant topic in California) and local color ( as if LA had a shabby little telephone exchange).
“Fuqua, Pizzolatto and lead actor/producer Jake Gyllenhaal are professionals enough not to destroy the obvious strengths of the original – and anyone who doesn’t know the original will be captivated by the straightforwardly implemented, unpredictable thriller.”
The fact that Fuqua and Pizzolatto expand on the slim, small premise is another matter: they pack partial subplots and additional themes onto the original. The protagonist is struggling with a breakup and a journalist who constantly calls and pries him out. He has asthma but is too proud to use his inhaler around his colleagues. When a small child tells him on the phone that he doesn’t believe the police will help, Fuqua gives this moment additional staging weight; editor Jason Ballantine gives this line of text space to resonate evilly in view of the increasingly clear social treatment of US police brutality. Nasty tongues that are not convinced by “True Detective” would claim that “still adding a sub-theme” is typical Pizzolatto, while more sympathetic voices would dismiss it by saying that it is a good thing for a remake to go its own way. It is unfortunate, however, that Fuqua’s “The Guilty” remains so close to the original that these own accents cannot develop sufficiently. At most, the inhaler number functions as a new facet of the protagonist: Gyllenhaal’s Joe is more impetuous, more energetic, more capricious than the Danish protagonist Asger – giving this nervous guy the tick, aggressively grabbing his inhaler out of irrational vulnerability and putting it away again instead of using it, is a facet that grounds him again.
Joe Bayler is faced with the biggest challenge of his police life…
Nevertheless, it overemphasizes a thematic facet that was present in the original and implemented very subtly and piercingly: the protagonist’s inability to take a quick breath and reflect on what was necessary. Because Joe/Asger’s sometimes erratic reactions repeatedly endanger everything. What is cool, nerve-wracking slow-burn tension in the original becomes more sensational thanks to Fuqua’s direction and Gyllenhaal’s acting (in a direct comparison). At the end, Fuqua and Pizzolatto bring out the club: Where the original leaves the audience alone with what they have experienced and the heavy thematic elements hang in the room like a storm cloud, in the US “The Guilty” everything is underlined with neon markers, formulated with crystal clarity and chewed up in advance. The shocks are more drastic, the warning elements are morally sour and the positive intermediate notes are full of pathos. Unkend, you could say “Sure, Hollywood!” or refer to the sub-audience of the streaming giant Netflix, which got involved in the project early on, and is always distracted by the second screen. When you’re making a film for a medium where “I surf on the side” isn’t against etiquette but happens quite often, sometimes you just have to be more clear. These are, of course, bad clichés – Hollywood can be subtle, Netflix can be complex and require concentration, that has been proven often enough.
“What is cool, nerve-wracking slow-burn tension in the original becomes more sensational through Fuqua’s production and Gyllenhaal’s acting (in a direct comparison).”
Maybe Fuqua and Pizzolatto just wanted to make a fatter, clearer, louder “The Guilty”. Fuqua in particular is not otherwise known for his quiet tones. But if that was intentional, you have to accuse “The Guilty” of not being bold enough and not courageous enough to go its own way.
Conclusion: The US remake of “The Guilty” falls between two chairs: too close to the original to be able to shine with its own accents, too bold and brash in its own decisions to harmonize with the strengths of the material, which is overall close to the original would. If you haven’t seen “The Guilty” yet, you should look out for the Danish film. Fuqua and Gyllenhaal fans can still watch the remake afterwards.
“The Guilty” is now available to stream on Netflix.