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'The Guilty' review: Jake Gyllenhaal shines as anguished LAPD officer

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a Los Angeles police detective

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a Los Angeles police detective working in a 911 call center in "The Guilty."  Credit: Netflix/Nefflix

MOVIE "The Guilty"

WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the new Netflix movie "The Guilty" as LAPD officer Joe Baylor, working the overnight shift at a 911 call center after being suspended from street duty following an incident months earlier.

Baylor's not doing very well. A court appearance tied to whatever he did to earn that suspension — the film keeps those details under wraps — looms the next day. His wife is not eager to answer his calls, let alone allow him to say good night to his daughter. His asthma is acting up.

It's a busy night on the job, as well: An enormous wildfire has broken out in the Hollywood Hills, leading to an avalanche of calls. And then, to make matters even more complicated, Joe takes a call from kidnap victim Emily Lighton (Riley Keough, heard but never seen) and becomes invested in saving her.

The film is directed by Antoine Fuqua, who knows a thing or two about Los Angeles policing movies having previously helmed "Training Day." It's written by "True Detective" creator Nic Pizzolatto, and streaming now.

MY SAY "The Guilty" takes place entirely within the call center, with Gyllenhaal front and center, perched at a console of screens while apocalyptic images of the fire rage on TVs in the background.

The star is in full-on intense Jake mode here, understanding the magnitude of the acting challenge that requires him to provide all of the picture's emotional weight while spending almost the entire movie on the phone.

Gyllenhaal is certainly the right actor for this, presenting Joe as an anguished figure whose moral core has been deeply challenged by his past actions.

He's haunted by whatever he did, and Fuqua enhances the pervading specter of guilt and despair by confining his world so tightly to this dim facility, where the only lighting comes from the glow of screens.

The filmmaker derives significant tension from the sense of helplessness that comes with trying to stop a crime in progress without ever leaving a desk.

While "The Guilty" is a remake of a 2018 Danish movie, it was filmed in late 2020 and the story takes on special resonance in this era of lockdowns and quarantines. We've all shared similar feelings of being powerless and imprisoned, in the face of horrors unfolding on screens in front of us.

Fuqua nails the setup, and the casting, but there's still the matter of generating a tight enough plot to justify Gyllenhaal's grand efforts. And that's where the picture runs into some serious trouble.

There's so much effort applied to establishing Joe's inner life that the question of what exactly happened to Emily and where she's being taken by her ex-husband Henry (Peter Sarsgaard, also solely a disembodied voice on-screen) becomes an afterthought. It's not much of a mystery to begin with, and slides into seriously convoluted territory as the movie builds toward its climax.

BOTTOM LINE Jake Gyllenhaal is great in "The Guilty," but let down by some weak plotting.

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