Pray that if you ever need to dial 911, there will be no one like Joe Baylor handling your emergency. On second thought, maybe you should. Or maybe not. If that sounds manic of me, that’s because that’s indicative of the frantic response Jake Gyllenhaal gives as a troublesome LAPD dispatcher in “The Guilty.”
An English remake of the acclaimed 2018 Dutch thriller of the same name, it ups the ante considerably over the original thanks to its larger budget and more esteemed range of voice talents (Bill Burr, native of the canton) calling (think “Fraiser”) the beleaguered Joe Baylor of Gyllenhaal. But as is the case with most Hollywood foreign films, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, not when so much is lost in translation.
I say this, of course, having had the benefit of watching both movies, an experience most Yankees won’t share if they choose to watch Gyllenhaal’s version when it premieres on Netflix on Friday, October 1. set entirely within a 911 call center will arrive with its many intriguing twists and turns intact and unforeseen. But if you’ve caught the original, prepare for a fringe disappointment courtesy of Antoine Fuqua, a director unfamiliar with subtlety.
When you’ve built a career on the bombast of movies like Mark Wahlberg’s action movies “Infinite” and “The Shooter,” the nuances are as strange as the Dutch spoken in the Gustav Möller original. Instead of an air of quiet dread, we get histrionics, mostly from Gyllenhaal as Joe, an LAPD officer dealing with the lethal cocktail of a broken marriage, unbridled anger, and an upcoming disciplinary hearing that will determine his future with force.
Typical of the film’s heavy pressure on gullibility, his day in court is only hours away, leading him to wonder why he would be working overnight at 911 with such an important investigation on file. But that’s the least of the film’s largely self-inflicted wounds. Most apparent, literally, is Fuqua’s choice to expand the theme of one man’s troubled conscience into a broader critique of American law enforcement, best exemplified by the bright orange wildfires on a wall of monitors. television inside a highly stylized Los Angeles County 911 center. . Get it? American society has turned into a conflagration. Naturally, Joe is about to become her microcosmic savior. Please.
It starts with a wicked sense of humor. A visiting businessman (voiced by Paul Dano) has been run over by a “voluptuous” prostitute and is huddled inside his rented BMW 7 Series. We get a glimpse of Joe’s sarcastic wit, watching him grin while suppressing the urge to laugh out loud. We also observed him exhibiting zero patience with a drunk cyclist demanding that EMTs treat his skinned knee. Joe’s response, which should be greeted with applause by all 911 dispatchers, is to advise the crybaby to “call an Uber.”
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After all, there are legitimate emergencies to attend to, namely the one involving the film’s centerpiece, a young mother who claims to have been abducted by her ex-husband, held against her will inside her white van. It is the same setting that occupies most of the original written by Möller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen. But in this Nic Pizzolatto-adapted version of “True Detective” fame, it feels less suspenseful and more manipulative. Maybe, like I said, I’ve seen this movie before. But I think it’s more Fuqua to beg Gyllenhaal and Riley Keough, as the voice of the desperate hostage, to embrace emotion to the fullest.
There are times when they are both quite impactful in promoting the film’s philosophy that only “the broken can heal the broken.” And, boy, are these two being smashed to pieces by their shared “dark secrets” involving mental illness and acts of violence against the young and (probably) innocent. Are any of them fit to live, given the dangers they pose to themselves and others?
And what about Emily’s husband Henry (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), the supposed villain in the play? Are you potentially a domestic terrorist? It is revealing how our biases towards unfounded stereotypes automatically make us condemn it. And therein lies the moral of this exercise in overthinking: don’t be too quick to judge.
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It’s hackneyed, but Gyllenhaal does it all with his near-insane portrait of a man whose anger has destroyed any essence of humanity beneath the rage. It won’t start to make you forget how wonderful Jakob Cedergren was in the original, but he’s the best Gyllenhaal – overdone to the point of distracting you (see “Nightcrawler”, “Wildfire”, etc.). You can’t help but be in awe of the passion generated. Same for Keough; It can’t quite match the heartbreak that Jessica Dinnage brought to the original, but it can’t be said that she’s not fully engaged.
That can’t be said for Fuqua. As usual, he has no idea when to say when, nor does he possess the ability to control his actors when they stray from the path. He has always been a director who favors style over substance, and here he is no different. And he only exacerbates that responsibility by attempting to mold his film into a comprehensive commentary on a world plagued by diseases ranging from climate change to overly aggressive policing and rampant mental illness. It’s too much for a little 90-minute thriller to produce.
Yet he admires their ambition. But as I’m sure is the case with many 911 calls, he is dealing with a terrible crisis only in the mind of the person yelling “fire.”
(R for language). Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal and the voices of Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano and Bill Burr. In theaters now before airing on Netflix on October 1. Grade: B-
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