In “The Guilty” Jake Gyllenhaal stars in one of my favorite niche subgenres, the Solo Chamber Movie. Its mainly one actor, and one location, and some kind of communication device. I don’t know what it is about these movies that hook me, but I always find them compelling. I was immediately reminded on Tom Hardy in 2013’s fantastic film “Locke”, Colin Farrell in “Phone Booth”, Ryan Reynolds in “Buried”, or David Oyelowo in “Nightingale”. This particular film centers on Joe Baylor, a short-tempered police officer that was recently demoted to dispatch. He receives a distressing call that hits a little too close to home and starts to obsess over solving the case.
Antoine Fuqua directs this with such a steady hand, the film never felt stagnant. It is just really stripped down storytelling, relying exclusively on a tremendous performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and amazing dialogue from writer Nic Pizzolatto. I haven’t seen the original Danish film this was adapted from but I am interested in checking it out after seeing this. Gyllenhaal’s performance is anxiety-inducing in the best way, really capturing the growing instability of the character as the story unravels. There are some great vocal performances from the other actors that really paint the outside world for us subconsciously, and have us hanging on their every word. The sound mix/design was rich and impactful, helping to fill in that picture as well. The dialogue from Nic Pizzolatto rarely felt stilted or unnatural and that grounded us to Joe and compelled us to go along for the ride. The rate at which information was dispensed was pitch perfect, keeping me invested in the film, while not giving away everything early on.
I think a case could be made for Gyllenhaal to get some awards recognition for this. He occupies nearly every frame of this film and commands your attention throughout. Just from an acting endurance standpoint, this felt like an emotional marathon. I love movies like this that can limit the scope of a story without sacrificing the stakes of a story. If that is what the original Danish film was like, then this captured it beautifully.