In the opening credits of Netflix’s The Guilty, a quote from the Bible reads, “And the truth shall set you free.” This quote plays a pivotal role in setting up the character arcs of so many characters of the film, some of whom you don’t even physically see. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, this crime drama keeps the audience hooked on the story, and leaves them gasping and questioning who is really guilty. The 90-minute remake of a Dutch film by the same name is a roller-coaster ride with an ending you wish was real.
We are introduced to Joe Baylor (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who has an insatiable need to punish people. It is this need of his that we find out got him into trouble and demoted from his job as Chief inspector to working as a 911 emergency operator. The loss of his job also takes a toll on him, as we see him taking puffs from his inhaler in the bathroom. At the beginning of the crime drama, Baylor gets a phone call from a distressed Emily Lighton (voiced by Riley Keough), where his cop-like instincts come into action. Jake Gyllenhaal gives his all in this role as he transitions from a harsh and ruthless cop to a human being questioning his own actions. There is something about the way he expresses himself that the audience can easily go from supporting his actions to condemning them, and a sense of brokenness that Baylor completely surrenders to by the film’s end. Gyllenhaal’s performance is bound to make you emotional and likely reflect on some of your actions you may regret.
One thing that is undeniable about the film is its exquisite sound design. Never has a technical feature of a film stood out so distinctly for me. The music by Marcelo Zarvos is subtle and complements the narrative beautifully. Even in moments where the background score would usually come off as jarring and overpowering, the use of music in The Guilty gives space to characters, like Baylor, so that their emotions are powerfully felt by the audience. We get to feel every puff Baylor takes from his inhaler, every time he is on the verge of having a breakdown, and every moment he feels that he has lost the marbles from his hands.
Another feature that stood out to me as the movie progressed was the cinematography by Maz Makhani. Being primarily a one-man show, it can be rather boring to only see one person from different camera angles. Makhani ensures that every angle shows a different side of Baylor as he dives deeper into uncovering the truth.
Coming to the voice cast, Riley Keough delivers a standout performance as the highly distressed 911 caller Baylor is talking to throughout the film, Emily Lighton. She cleverly uses the tone of her voice to manipulate the audience to side with her until the big reveal at the end of the film. The same can be said about Peter Sarsgaard, who voices the character Henry, Emily’s ex-husband. He easily transitions from the supposedly harsh partner to someone filled with unexpected love and care. The rest of the cast — Ethan Hawke, Eli Goree (of One Night In Miami fame), David Castañeda (of The Umbrella Academy) — also have stellar voice performances, and add to our anxiety about what exactly is transpiring during the running minutes.
From a technical standpoint, The Guilty is one of the best technically sound films. However, I found the story and screenplay to drag on at some moments. Being a direct OTT release, such a minute detail could cost dearly for the viewership of the movie. Interestingly, most of the moments where the screenplay slows down are crucial for Baylor’s character arc, leading to an over explanation of why he is the way he is. For example, as the story seems to build up to a major beat, the film breaks into an argument between Baylor and his estranged wife Jess, something which is completely unnecessary for the running minutes.
While it may not live up to the standards of the original Dutch film, The Guilty will take you on a ride filled with thrills. Maybe it will even force you to reflect on the reality we live in and make you start owning your scars, as it does to Baylor.