Written by: Matt Patti | September 23rd, 2021
The Guilty (Antoine Fuqua, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
From Antoine Fuqua, director of Training Day, The Equalizer, and many other action-packed crime dramas, comes another edge-of-your-seat thriller, The Guilty. However, this film is quite different than many of Fuqua’s previous works. The entire film takes place inside a 911 call center, so the audience never quite sees any action happening on screen. We only hear events taking place over phone calls. However, Fuqua still manages to craft a vivid, suspense-filled feature that keeps the viewer guessing and puts them squarely in the shoes of a 911 operator.
Our central character in The Guilty is Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal, Spider-Man: Far from Home), a former cop who is demoted and assigned to work in a 911 call center. He answers many calls in his new role, taking some more seriously than others. One day, he receives a strange call from a woman in the trunk of a van who has been kidnapped. He attempts to help her and sends police to search for her. However, he soon learns that there is much more to this kidnapping than meets the eye, and the situation turns out to be much more complicated than he’d have ever imagined. As Joe desperately searches for answers in increasingly risky ways, he comes to face a shocking truth.
Fuqua does an excellent job of showing the other side of 911 dispatchers that aren’t always shown in documentaries or other films. While these dispatchers help save lives and should be respected, some take their job less seriously than others while some overstep their bounds. Meanwhile, Joe is a combination of both, which makes him a very intriguing main character. He dismisses piddly little calls about things he deems unimportant but goes to unthinkable lengths to help people who are in actual danger. Gyllenhaal delivers an outstanding performance as a former cop who spends most of his days wishing he were still out in the field and part of the action rather than playing a passive role behind a computer screen. Joe would much rather go out and help people directly and is immensely frustrated that he can’t do more from his desk, often displaying fits of rage on the job, especially towards those who don’t seem as committed to finding the kidnapped woman as he is. The conflicted, complex Joe keeps the audience invested in the character and in the film.
The layered plot of The Guilty also keeps our interest high, as does its equally entertaining subplot. The main plot, of course, involves Joe on calls with the kidnapped woman trying everything in his power to lead police to her. However, perhaps just as important, and surely just as compelling is the mystery of Joe’s personal life and the reason why he was demoted. Fuqua is adamant to keep this plot point unknown to the audience for most of the run time, so the viewer is forced to hypothesize why Joe’s home life is in shambles, why his relationship with his wife is strained, and why someone of his caliber was demoted from the police force.
Unfortunately, when the marbles do finally get spilled as to why Joe is no longer a police officer, they are spilled rather lazily. The plot point is revealed in a forced, inauthentic sort of way which sours what is a captivating mystery for much of the film. The film’s main plot has a surprise of its own which provides a decent twist, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see the twist coming a bit before it actually did. Still, there are plenty of other smaller surprises that unfold to keep things interesting. The film does sadly end on a bit of a whimper once the cat is out of the bag on everything, but the ride is still engaging up until that point.