Rating – ⭐⭐⭐
Hollywood has a history of disappointing remakes of foreign-language films. Whilst a select few manage to equal the original, many, like Downhill (a remake of the Swedish comedy-drama Force Majeure) and The Grudge (a reimagining of J-horror classic Ju-On: The Grudge), fail to capture the magic of the non-English original. Others, perhaps even more insultingly, are little more than localisations of a non-English film. Unfortunately, The Guilty firmly falls into the latter camp.
The Guilty is an American remake of the 2018 Danish film Den skyldige. Instead of a Copenhagen cop working answering emergency calls whilst he awaits trial for an unknown crime, the film follows LAPD officer Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is also working in answering emergency calls whilst he awaits trial for an unknown crime. After receiving a call from a woman (Riley Keough) who has been abducted, Joe does everything he can to try and save her. We follow the action almost entirely from Joe’s perspective, listening to events happening through his headset. Most of the film takes place entirely in two rooms of the call centre, with Joe being the only character on-screen for almost two thirds of the film.
If you have seen the Danish original (which was removed from British Netflix shortly before the release of this remake) none of this will sound new. The script is almost a direct translation from the Danish original, with Danish names and places swapped out for American ones. Other than opening and closing shots of LA, which weren’t there in the original, and the American version of the call centre being much larger, there is only one real change to the remake: making Joe more of a sympathetic character. Unlike his Danish counterpart, who we know almost nothing about, Joe has an ex-wife and a daughter who we find about very early on. There are only a handful of new calls, all of which are added to expand Joe’s character. These changes all fell short for me. You would have to change the story in a major way to succeed in making Joe sympathetic, something the film is unwilling to do.
Beyond the lack of significant changes, The Guilty is a mostly solid remake of Den skyldige. Gyllenhaal’s performance is a particular highlight. As the sole actor on screen for most of the film, The Guilty is completely reliant on him to keep the audience engaged. Despite not liking his character, Gyllenhaal’s performance engaged me in a way very few other recent performances have. I’m not sure if he tops Jakob Cedergren’s performance in the original Danish film, but his performance is by far the best part of The Guilty. Unfortunately, several of the other performances, especially the voice performances, are bad to the point of being distracting. The fact that they haven’t hired trained voice actors for the many exclusively vocal roles in the film really shows. Without singling anyone out, some of the voice acting is about as nuanced as an early 2000s video game.
All in all, The Guilty is a remake which does almost nothing to justify its existence. The few changes that were made, particularly when it came to the character of Joe, harm the film more than they help it. If you can overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you should watch the Danish original. The Guilty is far from a bad film, but Den skyldige is one of the tensest films you can find.
Image courtesy of Gordon Correll via Wikimedia Commons