Andrea’s Film Review – The Guilty

The Guilty ⭐️⭐️⭐️Review by Andrea Carnevali

A demoted police officer assigned to a call dispatch desk is conflicted when he receives an emergency phone call from a kidnapped woman. Watch it on Netflix.

The Guilty (2021) is the American remake of a Danish film from 2018 with the same title which won the Sundance Audience Award that year. I stumbled across it on Netflix about a year and a half ago and fell in love with it instantly. I’m fact it was among my top ten films that year.

The premise couldn’t be simpler: a night shift policeman in an emergency call centre tries to save girl who’s been abducted. The film was in real time and the camera never left the call centre (in fact it hardly ever left the man‘s face). Somehow being stuck in there with the protagonist and not being able to see what is actually going on outside made it one of the most tense thrillers I had seen. But there was a lot more too.

I loved the clever way the script worked and how the story unravelled in front of our eyes as the mystery was slowly revealed, but also as we learnt more about our main character.

I have always been a great fan of these high concept types of movies where people are stuck in one location as tension rises: think of “Phone booth”, “Buried” and of course Hitchcock’s “Rope” and “Lifeboat”, just to mention a few.

Now coming to this version, it’s amazing how similar the two films are on paper: the scripts are mostly identical, word by word (though some crucial and predictable difference at the end… but then again, it’s Hollywood).

As you would expect, the American remake looks more polished and slick and yet by losing some of that darkness and grimness from the original, it also seems to have lost some of the edge. All those fancy screens and technology flashing in the background may look great from visual point of view, but in the end they are actually just a distraction from the main story.

Everything in this new version seems to be “overdone”, over-cooked, spelt out and all those subtleties which had made the Danish version sound a masterpiece got lost in translation.

The use of sound design for example might be something that not many people will pick up on, but it makes a huge difference. What I loved about the original was how the off-screen sound (heard through the policeman’s headset) was used to enhance the tension and heighten the sense of dread. It was sometimes bad sound, difficult to hear, distorted and muffled and yet not being able to see what was going on, the viewers hung on every scrap of that sound, searching for clues and were forced to use their imagination to fill in the gaps, which of course made it all even more tense and interesting.

Unfortunately director Antoine Fuqua doesn’t seem to trust his own material as much as he should and he ends up resorting to the usual tropes, adding extra sound effects, ringing sounds, heartbeats, reverbs, whistles and so on, all of which might make it look sleek but take it further away from reality, to the detriment of the tension that was so palpable in the Danish version.

At the centre of it all, here we have a very strong and powerful performance by Jake Gyllenhall, which is certainly going to look great once is clipped in short segment and shown at any of the awards ceremonies next year, and yet it is also an all-out performance which misses all the subtleties from the original. His readings are all at 100% and that doesn’t leave much space for the more quiet moments which should be (and certainly were in the original) just as powerful as the “shouty” ones.

Anyway, you got the drift. It’s probably not fair to constantly compare a film with its original, but I think that if you go for a remake you must have a reason to do it again: a different point of view, style, some new ideas… a bit of a twist. Here it seems to me, it was just for lazy people who can’t be bothered to read subtitles.

You might just think to yourself “What the hell is he talking about? This film was absolutely fine”.  And you may be right: it is fine. But just “fine”. In the end the Hollywood conventions ended up hurting the film and crucially making it less powerful.

Do yourself a favour and watch the original, which is still on Netflix and tell me if I am not right.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.

You can find The Guilty on Netflix.

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