Crime Drama

TIFF Review: ‘The Guilty’ is an Unconventional Police Thriller with a Topical Twist

October 2, 2021Ben MK

Every year in the United States, some 240 million people call 911. It's an astonishing statistic that only serves to highlight the important role played by the men and women who work as dispatchers in emergency call centers across the nation. And in The Guilty, director Antoine Fuqua re-teams with his End of Watch and Southpaw star Jake Gyllenhaal to tell the story of one such man — a man who can't help but be affected by his own guilty conscience as he tries to save the life of a woman in danger.

Set over the course of one sweltering California night, the film follows an LAPD officer named Joe Bayler (Gyllenhaal). Temporarily demoted to answering 911 calls in the wake of his involvement in the police shooting of a 19-year-old man, Joe also happens to be having a rough time on the personal front, being estranged from his wife and longing to see his own daughter. But what starts out as just an ordinary overnight shift soon turns into something much less routine, when Joe receives a call from a distraught woman named Emily (Riley Keough), who claims that she's been kidnapped by her ex-husband (Peter Sarsgaard). Driven by his sense of duty and perhaps also motivated by his own personal demons, Joe becomes obsessed with doing everything in his power to ensure that Emily gets home safe to her family. But has he stopped to really consider all the facts about the situation — or could there be more to Emily's predicament than he ever imagined?

Either way, the narrative twists and turns that follow, coupled with Gyllenhaal's gripping portrayal of a man desperate to earn his redemption, prove quite compelling indeed. And it's all the more impressive when you consider the fact that, for the most part, his is the only face that viewers ever get to see. Suffice to say, if you're looking for a police drama that's a little more topical and a lot less conventional, you can't go wrong with The Guilty — or at least do yourself a favor and check out the 2018 Danish film of the same name.

The Guilty screens under the Special Presentations programme at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 30 min.

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