There is no mention of COVID-19 in “The Guilty,” the new Jake Gyllenhaal thriller now streaming on Netflix. But make no mistake, this is a pandemic movie, A remake of 2018 Danish film “Den skyldige,” it is essentially a one hander, shot on a just a handful of set with strict safety protocols in place. Gyllenhaal may be socially distanced from his castmates, but his performance is anything but distant.
Gyllenhaal plays Joe Baylor, an LAPD cop on 911 duty while he awaits a trial for police brutality. As wildfire ravage the city, he’s tied to a phone at the call center, where he makes his displeasure at his new assignment clear to anyone who calls in. Short tempered, he snaps at his co-workers and even berates his callers for their bad choices—“You did drugs!”—before offering assistance.
His attitude changes when he gets a call from Emily (Riley Keough, who does impressive voice work), a mother of two kidnapped by her abusive ex-husband (Peter Sarsgaard). Their conversation sets off a chain of events that causes Baylor to look inward and reassess the choices that led him to the 911 dispatch center.
Played out in real time, “The Guilty” builds tension as Baylor races against a ticking clock to bring the situation to a safe resolution for Emily. Director Antoine Fuqua amps up the sense of urgency, keeping his camera focused on Gyllenhaal’s feverish performance. The close-ups create a sense of claustrophobia, visually telegraphing Baylor’s feeling of helplessness and his crumbling mental state.
Gyllenhaal hands in a gripping performance that bristles with determination, ranging from brooding, to explosive to resigned. His expressive face fills the screen, and with the exception of some distracting eyebrow acting, carefully guides us down the rabbit hole of Baylor’s anxiety.
“The Guilty” is a no-frills thriller that allows the viewer to imagine most of the action, both in Emily’s plight and Baylor’s head. It breathes the same air as movies like the minimalist “Locke” that do a lot with a little.