Antoine Fuqua’s explosive new film should come with a health warning, such is its intense physiological impact. Joining the ranks of Steven Knight’s Locke in its depiction of psychological duress and claustrophobia, The Guilty is a marathon of finely-calibrated distress. Set over the course of a few hours at a 911 call centre in Los Angeles, Gyllenhaal plays Officer Joe Baylor, who has been demoted to the role of call operative while awaiting his own court date.

Baylor is a man coloured by his anxiety, and Gyllenhaal plays him devoid of affect or archness. As LA is ravaged by wildfires on the screens before him, Baylor is faced with not only his personal torments, but a polyphony of stress in the form of 911 calls. This is compounded by Baylor’s deteriorating mental health, which Fuqua depicts in standard but  evocative tropes; close-ups, blurred visuals and high-pitch ringing. In front of Baylor, a seltzer fizzes with caustic urgency – he is operating full-time at crisis mode, executed by Gyllenhaal with devastating finesse.

Evoking the angsty appeal of programmes such as 999: What’s Your Emergency?, Fuqua does a fantastic job of manipulating the audience’s reactions – accentuating the helplessness Baylor feels as a 911 call quickly spirals out of his control. The visual economy of the film, with its brooding colours and minimal soundtrack is contrasted by the afflicting emotions that run riot across Gyllenhaal’s face. He is liable to explode with rage or convulse in tears at any moment. In this manner, The Guilty is not only a high-class thriller, but a timely study of mental decline and volatility within the police force.

The backdrop of natural disaster is chillingly pertinent, as is Baylor’s dubious morality. Both speak to a nation struggling to control systemic and environmental catastrophes. Watch this film, but for god’s sake, remember to unclench your jaw afterwards.



CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough, Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard

DIRECTOR: Antoine Fuqua

WRITER: Nic Pizzolatto

SYNOPSIS: Events spiral out of control at a 911 call centre in Los Angeles, as one officer takes the law into his own hands.

About The Author


Freelance film writer. Cinematic interests include (but are not limited to): women in film, women being bad in film, food in films, weird snacks that symbolise something else (a hot is never just a hot dog … or however the saying goes), great soundtracks in films, characters singing in their cars, films about drop-out music geeks that pretend to be teachers in order to live out their fantasy at a local rock gig (yes, School of Rock is in my top 5).