Dark in subject matter as well as aesthetics, Antoine Fuqua's remake of Danish film Den Skyldige transfers the tense thriller to Los Angeles. But LA is seen only in televised images and maps in The Guilty, which is set entirely in a police dispatch office.
Instead, the city of extremes lies just outside the window. Like the violence communicated via 911 calls, it's suggested and overheard rather than seen, which lets the viewer imagine it and adds to the tension.
The film cleverly employs light, sound, and the single moody office setting to render the state of mind of Jake Gyllenhaal's Joe Baylor. The tightly-wound detective clearly has anger issues, and he also seems to be suffering from severe stress, all of which Gyllenhaal -- the camera's solitary focus for 90 minutes -- sweats and flexes through. The film depends on his ability to sustain this tension convincingly.
Meanwhile, the enigma behind his character's circumstances parallels the mystery he's unraveling in 911 calls from an apparently abducted woman. Nothing is as it seems. Fuqua puts viewers at unease from the start, opening on Joe struggling for breath in a cold, white bathroom. Joe returns to his post in a blue-black dispatch office lit by computer screens, desk lamps, and dim light filtering in through half-closed blinds.
On a wall of television screens, images of wildfires blaze across LA. Only when Joe seems to find a semblance of peace do the glowing fires appear extinguished. Most of the time, he can barely contain his angst. Ambient noises come and go, replaced by muffled sounds, echoing, or ringing, as if we are inside Joe's head.
The voices behind the calls are played by well-known actors like Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough, and Peter Sarsgaard, but none are seen on screen. The snippets of their panicked calls are meant to disquiet. They weave a devastating story that broaches contemporary topics like police violence and social inequities, and one which only clears up -- like the skies over Los Angeles -- at the end of the movie.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.