The performances shine over these recycled phone calls.
You have to know your past in order to know your future: a lesson that everyone should acknowledge. It’s not just apply to history, but also movies. You have to know what you’re getting yourself into, and you must distinguish between original and remake. I once taught a good friend of mine that the 2015 “Vacation,” which I hated, was a continuation of “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” and she was astonished. And another time, I told my cousins or friends (I can’t remember exactly) that “Mad Max: Fury Road” was a sequel, as there were three other entries with Mel Gibson and director George Miller.
Before I saw Jake Gyllenhaal produce and star in the new thriller “The Guilty,” I had to see the original Danish film from 2018 in order to compare and contrast. The original was daring and thrilling, as it was an example of how things aren’t always what they seem, and the performances (especially Jakob Cedergren as the main demoted-cop-turned-dispatcher) were uniformly excellent, on or off-screen.
The American version, directed by Antoine Fuqua, takes place in Los Angeles during a wild fire. Gyllenhaal plays Joe Bayler, the new main demoted-cop-turned-dispatcher, and both movies share the same plot of him contemplating about telling his story about shooting and killing a young man, while dealing with a woman (Riley Keough) who may have been kidnapped by her ex-husband (Peter Sarsgaard). I didn’t know what to expect out of the Danish version, but with this one, I did.
While Joe struggles to get the help he needs to help the woman, he also has trouble communicating with his ex-wife in order to talk to his little girl. That’s one of the few things this version does differently from the original, while I more or less bored by the many other recycled elements and situations.
While I wanted originality out of Nic Pizzolatto’s screenplay, I was impressed by the performances, particularly from Gyllenhaal, who uses his emotions at the level of Cedergren. And both these actors portray the same character with the same guilts and stress. And other callers in the movie include Ethan Hawke as the main Sergeant, Paul Dano as a rude businessman robbed by a hooker, Beau Knapp as a druggie, Eli Goree (“One Night in Miami”) as Joe’s partner and witness, Eli Patterson (“Knives Out”) as a journalist trying to get Joe’s story, and Bill Burr as a potty mouth night club caller.
These actors deliver, but even the script almost recycles their dialogue. Some are well-performed, others are just tedious and predictable. I’m just hoping they’re not quoting the same lines as the original Danish actors did, but they do.
I want to distinguish between the 2018 Danish film and the 2021 American version. The 2018 gets three and a half stars, while this one gets two and a half stars. I wanted this version to do something different, and the one subplot it adds in is how the main dispatcher wants to see his little girl again, while contemplating about his confession. And again, upstaging the phone calls I’ve heard in the Danish film are the performances from the A-list cast. If you didn’t see the original, then you would have been more interested in it than I was.
In Select Theaters This Friday
Streaming on Netflix October 1st.