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TIFF 2021 Review: The Guilty – “Antoine Fuqua is no stranger to the thriller genre”

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A Los Angeles detective demoted to being a 911 dispatch call operator attempts to rescue a caller who claims to be abducted.

A medicated 911 dispatch call operator attempts to keep his nerves in check in the washroom before returning to his job.  The world is ablaze with a forest fire that appears on the big screen which is stretching the municipal resources of Los Angeles to the limit.  The incoming calls are somewhat comical and dealt by Joe Baylor portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal with amusement and disdain.  The prevailing source of stress is revealed when a newspaper reporter calls the personal smartphone of Baylor and attempts to get him to comment on his discipline hearing which is occurring the next day.  The pressure increases when a caller claims to be abducted and the demoted detective struggles to get the necessary cooperation and assistance to deal with the situation.

Check out all of our TIFF coverage
A remake of the Danish thriller The Guilty, the Netflix production was ideally suited for dealing with the coronavirus protocols as the story happens almost entirely within the call centre, the workstations are spread apart, and the cast is minimal.  Principal photography lasted a mere 11 days with filmmaker Antoine Fuqua being confined to directing from the interior of a van because of being in contact someone who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 just before shooting was to commence.  Fuqua is no stranger to the thriller genre whether it be Training Day or The Equalizer and the professional know-how is on full display with the slick imagery and pacing.

It is not easy deciding to focus almost entirely on a single character who is confined to one location and to do it in real-time.  Sound design is front and centre in showcasing the emotional state of Baylor as well how he interacts with other people and is well utilized.  The advantage of this restrictive approach is that the audience is as in the dark as the main character which adds to suspense.  What is distracting is the quick-cut editing which is more interested in showcasing different camera angles in an effort to make things more visually interesting.  What would have been more effective is to let the performances unfold, in particular when Baylor goes about using his detective skills to rescue the caller.  The plot is contrived as the conflict conveniently multiples and Gyllenhaal comes across as over the top rather than someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The Guilty hits Netflix on 1st October 2021.

The 46th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 9-18, 2021, and for more information visit tiff.net.    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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