Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a police officer. Due to some disciplinary issues, he has to man the 911 dispatch desk for a while. But he has finally come to his last shift before he can return to his actual job. Or at least that’s what he hopes – the decision should be coming in, and he hopes to be going out. When he receives a call from a kidnapped woman (Riley Keough) he quickly becomes very involved in the case, though.
The Guilty is practically a locked room drama with almost only one visible actor, the rest coming in over the phone. It demands a lot of Gyllenhaal, but he is absolutely up for the task. The film has some interesting things to say about police work and masculinity, but is still not radical enough for my taste.
I haven’t seen the film this is a remake of (in fact, I absolutely missed that it was a remake in the first place until writing this review), so I can’t really comment on that part, except to say that the film felt quintessentially USAmerican to me. That it was based on a European film was rather surprising to me. I don’t know how much was changed, or how much the original may have already felt USAmerican.
In any case, the film starts off as the usual copaganda: the rogue cop with some kind of problematic history and family issues sinks his teeth into a case, and his obstinacy and rule-breaking is what saves the day in the end. That’s what you expect to happen, based on the many, many cop movies that came before it. But the film takes these expectations apart one by one, slowly dismantling Joe’s “heroism” to uncover the violence and narcissim beneath it.
Gyllenhaal is perfectly chosen for the role. Not only does he look like the heroic cop we’re used to getting fed by movies, but he can also hold the tension in the role – and there is tension right from the start. Joe’s character development in the short time frame of the film (it basically plays out in real time) becomes realistic in Gyllenhaal’s hands.
Where the film falls flat for me, though, is that it ultimately still believes in the system that produces people like Joe. He does the right thing in the end, after all. But personally I am convinced that the system is fundamentally broken and that producing people like Joe is not a flaw, but its purpose. But that’s at least three steps too radical for the film. And that’s a pity.
Summarizing: very watchable.