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.

Zola

Written by Anna Harrison

80/100

“Y’all wanna hear a story about how me and this bitch fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”

So begins the viral Twitter thread from 2015, and so begins the movie it inspired: Janicza Bravo’s Zola. The original thread from A’Ziah “Zola” King, consisting of 148 tweets, became an internet sensation, garnering thousands of likes and retweets over the course of its posting not just due to the story of the tweets but the voice with which Zola told them, the humor and no-bullshit attitude she displayed even when facing increasingly absurd (and frightening) scenarios.

Bravo and co-writer Jeremy O. Harris (Tony nominee and likely future winner for Slave Play) manage to recapture the captivating storytelling of the original Zola and bring to life the first Twitter adaptation with thoughtfulness and style to spare (it was shot on 16mm, giving it a hazy, almost dreamlike quality). Little has changed from the Twitter thread, except some names: we start with our titular heroine, Zola (as played by Taylour Paige), working at a sports bar (as opposed to the original Hooters) and stripping on the side. One day as she’s waitressing, she meets Stefani (Riley Keough), and the two—while not recognizing each other—immediately pin each other as kindred spirits with a shared enjoyment for dancing, and so Stefani convinces Zola to join her for a weekend in Florida hitting the strip clubs to make some extra cash. Zola agrees, so after convincing her boyfriend, Sean (Ari’el Stachel, Tony winner for The Band’s Visit), to let her leave through the power of sex, Zola joins Stefani, Stefani’s boyfriend, Derrek (Nicholas Braun, aka Succession’s Cousin Greg), and a mysterious, unnamed man called “X” played by Colman Domingo, and they go down to Florida.

If you’ve read the tweets, you know what happens next. X turns out to be Stefani’s pimp, and a far more threatening figure than you might first believe, Derrek is in completely over his head and one moment away from a nervous breakdown, and Stefani has dragged her purported friend into all this without thinking of the consequences. Luckily, Zola has a good head on her shoulders; Paige plays the straight man to the wild antics of her cohorts but does it with such magnetism that it’s hard to take your eyes off of her, even when she’s not talking (and she does often stay quiet, revealing her thoughts to the audience via the occasional voiceover, complete with the sound cue for a sent tweet to cap it all off). 

Keough’s Stefani is the flashier role, with an overexaggerated and culturally appropriated accent—you feel as if a slur is on the tip of her tongue at all times—but her over-the-top approach works well. Braun’s performance might seem like a Cousin Greg ripoff at first, bumbling and making bad choices, but as the movie progresses, he imbues enough layers into Derrek to set him apart, and Domingo is alternatingly charming and frightening, X’s Nigerian accent slipping out when he goes into a rage but just as quickly covered over by an American one and a wide smile. 

What sets Zola apart, more so than the performances, or the way it looks, or the excellent score by Mica Levi, is the way it interacts with its source material. The internet gives us access to all sorts of crazy things, but it in and of itself is apathetic, presenting these things and letting us marinate on them alone with our screens; Zola shows us Confederate flags and tower-like crosses on the drive to Florida interspersed with clips of its characters gleefully singing Migos’ “Hannah Montana”; Derrek drives alone with a scene of police brutality in the background. Bravo doesn’t comment on these occurrences, instead letting us scroll past them (so to speak) silently, conversely conveying much more than any exposition-heavy dialogue could. Tweet and text chimes abound, and at one point during a montage of penises (please do not take your child to this movie, as the couple sitting in the row behind me did), an Instagram heart flashes over the largest one. It’s all a performance, it’s all for the ’Gram. “Who you gonna be tonight, Zola?” she asks herself as she prepares to go onstage. “Who you gonna be?” Derrek watches Vines of people getting injured by various mishaps, chortling to himself at their misfortune (if 2015 feels recent, it only takes the appearance of a dead app like Vine to immediately date Zola). At one point, in what amounts to a hostage situation, Zola disassociates and our vision is replaced by a Mac screensaver—writhing tentacles of light changing color as they move. You know the one. Zola doesn’t just talk about our modern technological landscape, it merges with it.

Like the internet, Bravo never lingers too long on one particular topic, but crafts a better film for it: there are no monologues on the treatment of women, or the intersection of race and gender, or the way Zola slowly starts to lose control over her own body, because monologues like that don’t happen. We don’t wax and wane about these problems, we just have to deal with them in our own way, as Zola does, and they go on existing. By refusing to adhere to binaries, Bravo makes her film richer and more thoughtful. The ending is a bit too abrupt, but then again, it echoes reality—sometimes things end, just like that—so maybe that’s a small quibble. It’s hard to mind in the face of all the positives.

Zola Trailer

Zola is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Episode 84: VIFF Kickoff / The Devil All the Time / Sibyl / Siberia

“Life is what happens when you’re doing other things, right?”

Abel Ferrara

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 Trial of the Chicago 7 & Shithouse. Followed by The Devil All the Time, Sibyl, and the VIFF 2020 Official Selection Siberia.

We’d like to thank PODGO for sponsoring us this episode.
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Streaming links for titles this episode

The Devil All the Time on Netflix

Siberia is currently seeking distribution

Sybil is currently available to rent from multiple sources.

The Devil All the Time

Written by Nick McCann

84/100

As far as getting new releases, this year bites. It’s a good thing the streaming platforms all had full banks to deploy. Admittedly I’m still not all that enthused with Netflix originals, but the output has been steadily improving these last few years. This particular release captured my interest with it’s Appalachia aesthetic and emphasis on story.

The story covers a range of characters, places and time periods. I found it reminiscent of when films strove for artistic quality on top of pure entertainment. I was hooked all the way through. It moves along at a slow pace. In each situation we see the fates of these characters come to fruition. Fate is the keyword. As you feel the momentum build up to a crescendo, you also come to realize the title itself bears good meaning. For all the faith a person can have, their inner demons always rear their heads. This is an involving and thematically rich tale full of betrayal, lust and suspense.

There’s a great cast. Each does an excellent job justifying the part they play. Tom Holland leads with his most raw role to date. You feel for him instantly once he comes on screen as a young man shaped by tragedy and trying to get by in gritty surroundings. This is another reliable turn out by Robert Pattinson as a borderline mad preacher. You also get a scuzzy Sebastian Stan, Jason Clarke being creepy, a brief turn from Mia Wasikowska and more. It’s the kind of movie where I loved getting to know the characters and watching them come together.

On the technical side, the production design was convincing at realizing this setting. In a rickety looking past that’s full of character. The cinematography delivers too, lingering on moments of heavy emotion and moving with life when things get lively. The soundtrack and score help sell the immersion of its time period. It’s the kind of movie where I wouldn’t mind seeing a normal day go on in this community.

There’s some fleeting bits of action when the emotions and suspense start to peak. These sequences are well executed, building up to the absolute edge before ending as fast as they start. The one nitpick I have is you can see where they edit a frame out to sell a punch better. Still there are some hard hitting beat downs. Scenes with guns fare much better with an emphasized realism on the violence. The blood and make-up effects are good. Don’t take this as saying its action at every turn. When conflict arises, it feels natural and is appealing in how grounded it is kept.

If this were on physical media, I can see myself picking up a copy. The Devil All the Time is a solid character drama that takes you on a good haul with a flawed and vulnerable ensemble. The world the film paints around them, one of misinterpretation and corruption, is one I found enjoyable to get engaged with.

The Devil All the Time Trailer

Currently available to stream on Netflix

Episode 83: An American Pickle / She Dies Tomorrow / Waiting for the Barbarians

“Losing all the preconceptions that I had about storytelling, about the world, you know, and learning to see the world from a different perspective. It sounds romantic, but it’s not an easy process at all.”

Ciro Guerra

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

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of a duo of Netflix Releases in The Devil All the Time & I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Followed by the Titles: An American Pickle, She Dies Tomorrow, and Waiting for the Barbarians.

We’d like to thank PODGO for sponsoring us this episode.
You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up here. And when you do let them know we sent you!

Visit us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

Streaming links for titles this episode

An American Pickle on HBO Max

She Dies Tomorrow and Waiting for the Barbarians on Hulu