THE GUILTY (2021)

September 30, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Let’s start with this disclosure: the original Danish film from Gustav Moller was one of my top 5 favorite films of 2018. Even then, I fully expected an Americanized version to happen at some point. The surprise is having director Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY, 2001) handle the remake. He’s known more for bombast and action, than the nuanced suspense delivered by the original. To offset this, Mr. Fuqua wisely chose the dependable Jake Gyllenhaal as his lead, and the talented Nic Pizzolatto (creator and lead writer of HBO’s “True Detective”) to adapt the screenplay.

Gyllenhaal never cheats the audience, and he dives into the role with his typical full force commitment. Except for a few blurry visuals of cars on the highway and the dramatic opening shots of the raging California fires, Gyllenhaal’s Joe Baylor is on screen for the entire run. He’s a detective on desk duty at the 911 call center pending his court case on charges that only become clear towards the end. Joe is also separated from his wife and daughter; a crucial element in how his shift plays out in front of us.

As we listen in on his first few calls, it becomes obvious how Joe’s time on the streets have fine-tuned his quick-to-judge persona. He’s not shy about telling callers their own choices are responsible for their current predicament. Just as he’s about to dismiss his latest caller Emily, his instincts kick in, and he discerns that she’s been abducted by her husband in a white van, and fears for her safety. This initial call between Joe and Emily is a work of art, and kicks off the nearly unbearable tension for the rest of the movie and Joe’s shift.

Fuqua and Pizzolatto infuse commentary unique to modern day America. The fires are always in the background impacting emergency resources, as well as the air being breathed. Police collusion and abuse of power are also an underlying aspect of what unfolds in front of us. Yet somehow, the film (perhaps accidentally) speaks to the immense pressure faced by law enforcement and how instincts and quick judgments are crucial to assistance and survival. Joe bounces from calm demeanor to explosive overreaction in the blink of an eye – or the beep of an incoming call. We witness how preconceived notions can lead one astray, even if they’ve worked in the past.

In addition to Gyllenhaal’s commendable performance, the film includes terrific voice work (via phone) from such actors as Riley Keough (as Emily), Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Christiana Montoya, and Paul Dano. Adrian Martinez and Christina Vidal appear alongside Gyllenhaal in the call center, although the single setting contributes to this being mostly a one-man show.

We understand that Joe Baylor is seeking personal redemption in his all-out pursuit to save Emily, and one line in the film speaks directly to this: “Broken people save broken people.” If you haven’t seen the original, you are likely to get caught up in the tension, and ask yourself many of the same questions Joe is asking himself at the end. Gyllenhaal previously teamed with director Fuqua in SOUTHPAW (2015), but this crime thriller is something different for both. If you are up to the challenge, watch this version and the original, so that you can compare the contrasting approaches.

Streaming on Netflix beginning October 1, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016)

September 25, 2016

mag-7 Greetings again from the darkness. In this era of endless remakes, sequels and superheroes, I strive to keep an open mind when it comes to mainstream movies. All I ask is that the classics be left alone. Most will agree that there is no need for a new version of The Godfather, Citizen Kane or Gone with the Wind; however, disputes arise in the gray areas. An old guy like me may cringe at the thought of updating this western, though it’s easy enough to understand how Hollywood studio types view it as an opportunity to sell tickets to a younger audience. In art vs. commerce, making money usually prevails.

The 1960 original, directed by John Sturges was itself a remake/reimagining of one of the greatest films ever made: Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). Both are must-see’s for any movie lover. Given the technical advancements in filmmaking over the past 50-60 years, it only makes sense that director Antoine Fuqua (Southpaw, Training Day) would go bigger, faster, louder. What he can’t do is match the cool factor of Steve McQueen, Yul Brenner, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, or of course, Toshiro Mifune.

Mr. Fuqua does bring a more racially diverse cast with Denzel Washington taking the lead as Chisolm, the dignified man-on-a-couple-of-missions. Chris Pratt basically buckles a holster onto his Jurassic World character and becomes Faraday, the wise-cracking sharp-shooter, who is as likely to cheat in a card game as lay his life on the line for a good cause. The “seven” are rounded out with Ethan Hawke as war hero Goodnight Robicheaux, Vincent D’Onofrio as bear-sized man Jack Horne, Byung-hun Lee as knife specialist Billy Rocks, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez, and Martin Sensmeier as native-American outcast Red Harvest. You might think the only thing missing from this culturally diverse group is a woman, but Haley Bennett (and her distractingly terrible hair dye) plays a key role as a recently widowed town person intent on revenge against the heartless robber-baron Bogue, played by a sneering Peter Sarsgaard.

Co-writers Nic Pizzolatto (“True Detective”) and Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2) devote so much screen time to Denzel and Pratt that we never much get a feel for what makes the other characters tick. What’s not missing is the thundering hooves of galloping horses, steely-eyed glares, and gunfire … lots and lots of gunfire. This is where today’s sound technology really adds a welcome element – the cocking of a rifle, the leather of the holster, and of course, the near-deafening chorus from the Gatling gun all benefit from Sony 4k sound.

Fuqua’s stylistic approach may have more in common with Silverado (1985) than the 1960 Sturges film, but it’s important to note that this was legendary composer James Horner’s final score before he passed away. While we hear Horner’s unique take, we can’t miss the influence of the iconic original score by Elmer Bernstein. So while Pratt’s “So far, so good” joke may be a Steve McQueen re-tread, your appreciation of this latest probably correlates to your appreciation of the 1960 version.

watch the trailer: