Review: The Guilty
November 5, 2021
The 2021 Netflix drama The Guilty is not your average crime movie. Loosely based on a real 911 call, the story follows 911 operator Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he communicates with a woman named Emily Lighton (Riley Keough), who he believes was abducted. This movie, filled with drama and emotion is a decent watch for anyone who is looking to pass an hour and a half.
This film is a remake of the 2018 Danish movie Den Skyldige (or, “the guilty,” in English), which is based on a real, 20-minute-long 911 call from a woman who was in the passenger’s seat of a car driving next to her abductor.
The most unique aspect of this movie is its play on perspective. Throughout the entire film, the audience only sees the 911 operator’s perspective. The setting of the film is solely focused on the 911 call office, and the audience only hears the woman on the phone; the rest is left up to one’s imagination.
Although this is an innovative way to portray a film, the play on perspective leaves the movie feeling extremely one-dimensional and hinders the plot of the movie from becoming more complex. While the audience does experience cliff-hangers, by not having any other point-of-view, I wasn’t able to connect with the scenes as much as I would if there were other characters’ visuals.
As a consequence of this, another downfall of the movie is its repetitiveness. By not getting anyone else’s perspective, it felt at points as if I was rewatching the same scenes. Baylor is very attached to the call he has received and often experiences bursts of rage. The movie has a consistent loop of him getting angry, breaking things in the office and getting yelled at by his chief operator. If other perspectives were included, it may break some of the monotony.
At the same time, another aspect I really enjoyed was the realistic nature of the movie. The movie follows the Los Angeles 911 call office during the California wildfire season. Calls of fire flood the office, and in the midst of the chaos, Baylor receives this call from the woman he believes to be kidnapped. Baylor is also a divorced father who is stressed with life— something many audience members could relate to. While watching this film, I could relate to Baylor’s concerns and feel empathy for him as he communicates with the victim.
Another thing I really enjoyed was the theme of the guilty conscience. It is revealed at the end of the movie that Baylor and Lighton share a deep connection that ultimately leads to the movie’s resolution. Through this connection, the audience is able to see how Baylor’s guilty conscience made him care so much about this call he received and have such a deep connection with Lighton.
Yet, while watching, I often found myself bored. Because the movie focuses on one plotline and the audience only sees one person’s perspective, there is nothing extremely exciting that happens. I kept waiting for a plot twist, or a change of scenery, but neither of those were fully delivered. In addition, because of not being able to see Lighton’s perspective, this movie took a lot of thinking to fill in the gaps that otherwise would have been filled in by visuals.
Overall, I think this movie was a fine watch. If you are interested in crime or drama films, then you may enjoy this movie. I would not necessarily recommend anyone to go out of their way to watch this; however, if you have an extra hour and a half to pass, then give it a watch. The unique isolation of perspective and the deep emotional connection Baylor exhibits make this movie a decent, interesting watch.