The Guilty (2021) review – a taut thriller

By Marc Miller
Published: September 29, 2021 (Last updated: January 4, 2024)
Netflix film The Guilty


The Guilty is a taut thriller led by a terrific performance from Jake Gyllenhaal.

This review of the Netflix film The Guilty (2021) does not contain spoilers. 

Jake Gyllenhaal can express mental anguish with a single look like no other. He’s an actor who can bring an impressive amount of depth to almost any mainstream thriller (Prisoners, Nightcrawler, to name a few). The Guilty, streaming on Netflix from October 1st, is a more conventional effort. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Infinite), this is a film version of a bottle episode. On-screen, a small cast contained in one room tell a story of a police officer assigned to desk duty. The reasons for being put on the shelf are initially unclear.

Gyllenhaal plays Joe, who has been assigned to a Los Angeles emergency 911 call center. The man in blue has an ear for bullshit. He takes a call from a man out of town who was robbed by a woman he didn’t know who was in his car for reasons he cannot explain. Well, at least come up with a good reason besides the apparent paid-for afternoon delight. Things take a more concerted turn. He takes a call from a distressed woman named Emily (The Devil All the Time’s Riley Keough). She has been kidnapped and is in a white van somewhere in the second-largest city in America. To muddy up the waters, the area is under a major wildfire. He spends most of the film trying to track her down and save her before it’s too late. 

I’ll only give you a basic synopsis of The Guilty, a remake of the 2018 Danish thriller of the same name. Even the slightest revelation may ruin your enjoyment. The script takes on an old-time radio play, filled with voice actors you will be trying to place. Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard, Eli Goree, Ethan Hawk, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and even Bill Burr give stellar voice work. The script, from True Detective scribe Nic Pizzolatto, is perfectly paced. The adaptation reveals just enough about the reason for Joe’s demotion while layering some memorable twists along the way with Emily’s plight.

Fuqua’s film does have its flaws. A significant plus is that it’s not as preachy as one would think. However, a police officer being demoted to desk duty comes with questions. Why place an officer in such an essential role of taking calls from distressed citizens? Especially for a sworn officer who now has their judgment in question? You’ll also start to question why Emily has so much access to a cell phone if she is being held against her will. Most of these are answered in a way that works. Others are your obvious red herrings.

The Guilty has a release of kinetic energy by its end. The film is a success because it’s so predicated on the stellar performance from Jake Gyllenhaal who gives a layered effort. He is terrific in the role as he is not likable yet willing to do whatever it takes to save someone, even under the worst circumstances. It’s an unhinged turn that you can practically see mentally come apart at the seams. It’s one of his best.

What did you think of Netflix film The Guilty (2021)? Comment below. 

Movie Reviews, Netflix