Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: The Guilty (2021)

Written by Taylor Baker

48/100

Before talking about Antoine Fuqua’s The Guilty one has to mention the Danish film on which it’s based. Gustav Möller’s Den skyldige which translates to The Guilty, was submitted by Denmark for their Foreign Language Category at the Oscars in 2019. All that to say Fuqua isn’t remaking a poor film, one that perhaps needs it. Instead he with Netflix is retelling nearly the same story from 3 years ago absent any meaningful reason other than the original wasn’t in English.

Fuqua is coming off his worst film to date in May on Paramount+ he released Infinite. Which starred a checked out Mark Wahlberg opposite of a dialed in maniacal Chiwetel Ejiofor. Fuqua’s gone back and forth with hits and misses his whole career. Whether you measure from critical acclaim or actual dough at the box office. The Guilty is a return to form in that it’s fine. It dots i’s it crosses t’s. He puts a great actor in front of his camera and makes him work. Jake Gyllenhaal is game. Chewing on the darkness and wheezing his way through conversations to save a little girl at the other end of the phone line.

It’s all just a little thin though. I can’t quite believe the circumstances surrounding our character Joe Baylor played by Gyllenhaal. He’s supposedly a complex and ranging bad guy. I mean he is one of our “guilty” from the title, after all. But he seems heroic not just for moments but nearly the entire runtime. And when his ugly moments do come out he seems pathetic rather than responsible. There’s a tonal loss of control from the originals central character Asger Hold performed expertly by Jakob Cedergren and this rendition.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

Instead of sticking to the tight, suffocating atmosphere that worked so well, Fuqua opts instead to constantly look out through the TV screens to fires raging in LA. His message, themes if you want to be courteous enough to call them that are worn on his knuckles. He’s trying to juggle a bunch of different issues that in his own words preceding the film he wants to bring attention to. Well unfortunately, bringing attention to things and doing a service to them are very different and though his heart may be in the right place his storytelling wasn’t.

The Guilty is at it’s best Gyllenhaal is bug eyed on the phone with Emily and Abby. Trying to help them be reunited safely. The brief moments Gyllenhaal’s Officer Baylor shares with Ethan Hawke’s no bullshit Sgt. Bill Miller ring as a revelation. Hawke as voice actor is superb. Venomous, witty, clever, and insightful all through his annunciation. Once casting directors see what he can do I suspect there will be a late career boom of Ethan Hawke voice acting.

Fuqua’s “one roomer” does little to build on its predecessor. But it doesn’t do it a disservice. The original is undeniably better, but I expect this rendition to be receive lots more eyes with the language shift. Undoubtedly one of the better Netflix Original films to come out this year.

The Guilty Trailer

The Guilty was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival and will be available on Netflix starting October 1st, 2021.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Episode 81: Fantasia 2020 Part 2 / Survival Skills / PVT Chat / You Cannot Kill David Arquette

“I don’t want to lie. I dislike dishonesty. And I work in Hollywood, a town and a business that relies on a lot of falsehoods with people hiding behind different facades. I don’t want to be a part of that.”

David Arquette

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: The Batman & Ammonite. Followed by the Fantasia Film Festival Titles: Survival Skills, PVT Chat, and You Cannot Kill David Arquette.

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PVT Chat is currently unavailable to rent.

Mr. Jones

Written by Taylor Baker

76/100

Agnieszka Holland’s harrowing look at the under discussed Holodomor in the 30’s is one of the many overlooked films of 2020. Mr. Jones features elegant transitional supercuts early on. The effect of which is to display the telephone wire and railways as ideas and functions. Holland evokes a sense of excitement about the promise of these technologies in the 1930’s. A point that begins to wane as the film progresses. The film settles upon the shoulders of James Norton playing the titular Mr. Jones, who was the journalist that first reported the tragedy occurring on the Eastern Front of the Soviet Union.

Cementing the narrative at the beginning is the lead in of Eric Arthur Blair better known as George Orwell sitting at a table looking at a pig in his yard. He is beginning to write one of, if not his best known work, Animal Farm. There is still a spirited debate as to whether the Farmer Jones character was indeed named after Gareth Jones, the hero of our film or not. We will likely never truly know this historical detail. There is a very compelling dissertation on this subject can be read here. Despite that debate you can’t help but see the similarity of the content of Animal Farm and the actions and events of the Soviet Union. An apt point that brings a layer to the story that is not only earnest but rings with a feeling of truth.

The film stays away from some of the more disturbing aspects of the Holodomor. Never venturing into the stories of cannibalism or the reality of the mass graves. It focuses exclusively on what Jones’ experience may have been and minor asides of those around him. It expends a bit more energy than is good for it on a budding romance between Kirby and Norton. Which while enjoyable in the thrust of the film, now in retrospect feels to have dampened the impact of the picture.

There are some consequential lulls in the narrative. The real engagement between myself and the film came from the behind enemy lines journalism segments and slow graduation into understanding how nefarious the “success” of the Soviet Union was. This is precisely the type of Historical Drama I often lament at not being made these days. If you like me are hungry for more stories in film about little seen historical events of great importance I encourage you to view Holland’s Mr. Jones. It’s what Snowball would have wanted. 

Recommended.

Mr. Jones Trailer

Mr. Jones is currently available to stream on Kanopy and Hulu