The Guilty Review: A Thriller Resting On Jake Gyllenhaal’s Shoulders
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Review: The Guilty Is A Fast Paced Thriller Resting Squarely On Jake Gyllenhaal’s Stressed Out Shoulders

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BY October 1, 2021

Dialogue-heavy thrillers are hard to do. Movies that aren’t stage adaptations, set in one location, are also hard to do. So when acclaimed director Antoine Fuqua and writer Nic Pizzolatto decide to set a talky thriller in just one room, it’s already an ambitious project, to say the least. However, with the powerhouse performance of Jake Gyllenhaal, The Guilty works on many levels as an edge of your seat thriller. My review of The Guilty will be completely spoiler-free, but speak more to the incredible one-man show that the movie ultimately becomes.

The Guilty Has A Very Interesting Premise With A Unique Setting

The Guilty review desk. Temporary work assignment | Image via Netflix.

The Guilty is actually an adaptation of a 2018 Denmark movie of the same name. It’s got a great premise, with incredible writing and even stronger performances. Or rather, performance. The whole movie is really all on the lead actor, with a few supporting actors sprinkled in throughout to keep the story moving forward. The Guilty is all about police officer Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal), suspended from duty for some reason, and relegated to taking 911 calls. The setting is unique as not many movies focus on that element of law enforcement. Probably because taking calls and dispatching other cops to a crime scene doesn’t sound as exciting as those actually seeing action firsthand. Not until The Guilty, at least.

Director Antoine Fuqua does an incredible job of building tension and suspense, with very little to work with, given that we don’t ever really leave Baylor and his dispatch centre workplace. But the intensity is still there, as much as a movie that spans multiple locations and settings. Maybe even more so. Fuqua and screenwriter Pizzolatto really build the anxious energy of the film through that limitation. Hearing voices on the other end, hearing action happening without being able to see it creates a different level of suspense than just seeing the action unfold on screen.

A Completely Spoiler-Free The Guilty Review

The Guilty review mirror. | Image via Netflix.

While doing a review of The Guilty without discussing specific plot beats is difficult, there’s a lot in the movie and its execution that is impressive, beyond the story itself. One of those elements is the immense performance of Jake Gyllenhaal. As a 911 operator, Joe handles a variety of calls, and it’s pretty much business as usual. Throughout the movie, there are allusions to him getting “back to duty tomorrow”, implying that something happened that made him pull temporary duty as an operator. So it’s not his usual assignment. But one phone call transforms his day into one much worse than the one that put him there in the first place.

When a woman calls, secretively trying to convey to him that she’s been abducted, things get ugly. Seemingly obsessed with this woman and her situation, Joe ends up maneuvering around a lot of rules and processes to ensure her safety. All the while seemingly dealing with his own anxiety over, something. It’s a pretty good story, executed even better. You can see how much a simple idea, in the hands of a lesser writer, director and actor, could easily be a small scale straight to video, kind of deal. Readers who remember movies before streaming will know what that means. But with Gyllenhaal in front of the camera, Pizzolatto dictating the sequences of events and Fuqua executing it all, things get pretty damn riveting.

Jake Gyllenhaal Delivers A Great Performance

The Guilty review close up When you need to change long distance carriers! | Image via Netflix.

One of the most impressive aspects of The Guilty is Gyllenhaal’s performance. Most of the movie is really just Gyllenhaal acting, reacting and emoting to the situations around him. As well as how it’s affecting him when no one’s looking. Which happens a lot. And the majority of his interaction with others is basically over the phone. And while this doesn’t impact the quality of the film itself, The Guilty was shot entirely during the pandemic, so that aspect of isolation and loneliness is even more of a factor here.

At its core, despite whatever is happening to Joe, it’s what we’re not seeing as an audience that is the more compelling part of his character’s back story. I won’t get into the specifics in this spoiler-free The Guilty review. But the whole story acts as a metaphor for our own biases and assumptions. Especially in moments of crisis. It’s an examination of how cloudy even objectivity can be. While Joe is essentially on the front line saving people, his own biases can prejudice him in a situation. But in this case, with deadly consequences. And that’s really where The Guilty shines, given that none of it is even evident until the third act.

The Guilty Review: The Downsides of the Film

The Guilty review stressed.. That frantic anxiety energy. | Image via Netflix.

While The Guilty is a pretty enjoyable and tense movie, there are aspects of the story that is detrimental to itself. The movie is pretty short, which isn’t surprising given the subject matter and the setting. But at times, the pacing does dip and get a little slow. This happens mostly during the build-up to the reveal of what’s going on with Joe. Gyllenhaal’s performance is great, but those sequences fall a little flat. Especially since it’s mostly Gyllenhaal spending a lot of time freaking out by himself. It gets a little tedious. Although, one could argue that the climax is worth it.

The Guilty’s trio of director, writer and actor make this movie an exciting and quick watch, that sucks you in with its story. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the massive talent on both sides of the camera makes this a movie worth watching.

The Guilty premieres on Netflix on October 1.

What did you think about this Antoine Fuqua directed Jake Gyllenhaal starrer? Did the isolated aspect of the movie work for you? Let me know in the comments below.

Featured image via Netflix.


Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at or on Twitter @theshahshahid.

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