The Guilty (Toronto International Film Festival 2021)


It’s always interesting for me to attend film festivals – there’s a special joy in cracking open films I might not have initially heard of or been attracted to and one I really dig. Fact is, I’m not just a horror film fan and occasional critic, but I’m just a film fan. Most of my favourite films have nothing to do with horror, and although THE GUILTY plays on a more human kind of horror, THE GUILTY is not a horror film.
Antoine Fuqua’s (TRAINING DAY) latest offering is a remake of the 2018 Danish film of the same name which was directed by Gustav Möller in his film debut, however, the ending of the Danish version is slightly different from the ending of the American version.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, THE GUILTY is primarily set in an emergency dispatch station, the majority of the film is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Joe Bayler yelling into a headset or pounding down Alka-Seltzer tablets like he’s got world’s worst tummy ache, which for someone like me living with IBS is oddly relatable.

alka-seltzer – whether you recently killed a man or just ate korean fire noodles, we’ve got you covered

As the film moves forward, we begin to understand that Joe Bayler is a recently demoted cop, who was involved in the killing of a 19 year old youth.  He is approaching his court date the following day and its implied he intends to lie and or obfuscate the truth on the stand and has gotten some of his colleagues to do the same.  Blue protecting blue.  A comment that stands out strongly in a time when police brutality and extrajudicial execution of citizens by police officers has been brought into painful light following the broad daylight murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin which sparked off weeks of protests against police brutality.

As we gain this knowledge about Joe through the film, it becomes clear that what Antoine Fuqua is saying to us is that we can see a situation and think we understand it, yet, we may only know some of the details or even have those details spun totally incorrectly which is an also especially poignant point given how quick our society can be to turn on someone without having all of the facts first and also serves as a comment on the cognitive distortion of the black and white thinking worldview, wherein things are either all good or all bad, and there are no shades of grey, no nuance. YouTuber Contrapoints offers indepth commentary on this cognitive distortion and how it relates to police officers in her video entitled Justice, which explains things much better than I could in a film review, so go have a listen.

Joe is desk bound to the dispatch desk, irritable and difficult, until he gets a phone call from a woman in distress – Emily Lighton (Riley Keough). He is able to discern that she has been abducted, and becomes inexorably bound to this case, overstepping his bounds and professionalism, a risk that could pay off, but in this case, seems to come up a little bit short. Joe swears to save Emily, to bring her home to her crying children. Part of what makes The Guilty so effective is the feeling of helplessness that the viewer is called to feel alongside Joe – and this is part of what make’s Joe’s righteousness and rage feel impotent – he is unable to do anything, bound to a desk and a phone, seated on the sidelines, and it’s clear he would rather be actively involved taking vengeance on the would be abductor of Emily.

But like the truth that slowly begins to seep out about the abduction, so too does the truth seep out about Joe Bayler in a twist ending that is both disturbing and comforting.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time watching THE GUILTY. I feel like it was a welcome addition to Toronto International Film Festival and it was picked up by Netflix and will be available streaming on October 1, 2021.
Don’t fuck up and miss it.

DIAG RATING: 5/6 – tight little thriller with a twist, Jake Gyllenhaal is splendid.

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