On this particular day in Los Angeles in The Guilty, everything is heated. Sky’s orange. The hills are ablaze. “The Guilty” is in blackletter type. Regularly heard are blaring sirens and calls for emergency services. But the place where the temperature is highest would be the 9-1-1 call centre where Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) is in; all the blues and blacks in the space are futile against the glare of the evening sun beyond the window or the glow of the fire that news cameras are capturing on the monitors.
Lucky you if you’re assembling an article highlighting the differences between The Guilty and the original Danish-made The Guilty (original title: Den skyldige) from three years ago. All it takes is the opening to have things to write about. Antoine Fuqua’s take on Gustav Möller’s film is a true “an American remake” as it feels compelled to depict high stakes (or heightened whatever) with devices enunciating “The stakes are high!” (or “Whatever is heightened!”). Consider: The film’s “first impression” consists of shots and sounds of Los Angeles being in the broiler rather than of the lead character finding out why a caller is in sheer distress. Both Joe and Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) are tearing at the seams—from the job, a workplace incident and an eroding marriage—but the former is more aware of it since writer Nic Pizzolatto has made him an asthmatic. On occasion, during Joe’s handling of a call—the call—where one Emily Lighton (voice of Riley Keough) said she has been abducted by her ex Henry Fisher (voice of Peter Sarsgaard), the outside world is seen in glimpses, fading in and out like mental images tend to do.
That last point is the sharpest divergence between the two versions; Möller’s film never lets Asger and the audience leave the centre in any fashion. How this is thought of as beneficial for The Guilty is unclear, considering the draw—and highly likely why the desire to Hollywood-ize it is there—is in the inability to see the whole picture, to use all five senses. Have viewers become such dullards that information from the sound design will be clueless to them? Is the power of suggestion a myth now? Fuqua and Pizzolatto’s intention might have been to “let’s add more entertainment,” but in the end it reads more like “we do not trust the concept enough.” Through the direction, the plotting, Jason Ballantine’s editing and Maz Makhani’s cinematography, we have been primed for the imminent explosions, of particular revelations about the abduction and more so the emotions of those connected by it, so when they go off it’s part of the plan. Or the retread, seeing how this is this close to be a 1:1 replica of the original. As passionate as Gyllenhaal can be going from simmering to neck-straining, vein-popping and eye-watering full boil, Joe is reacting as intended. To double-guarantee that you can follow along, Makhani’s camera will bob, and Ballantine will switch to a closer close-up. This much hand-holding doesn’t give Joe’s characterisation the provocative shade of grey that exists in the title, effectively making him the shadow of Asger instead of his U.S. counterpart.
Speaking of, you best look elsewhere if you’re seeking some commentary on the straight-from-A1’s call for accountability among police in The Guilty. It’s not that Fuqua and Pizzolatto aren’t aware of it, but whenever there is an opening to address it, they would move on and reanimate what Möller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen had done—just in a more American, “you get what you see” fashion. It’s cool if you’re cool with this, but afterward you should ring up the need to seek out the original. It’s hotter. Subtitles might be required, but the description stands.
The Guilty will be in theatres from Sept 24, and on Netflix from October 1, 2021