The Guilty, a Sneaky Good Police Polemic

The Guilty is a critique of cops in the guise of a palatable thriller with a police officer as protagonist, a sneaky polemic just waiting for unsuspecting folks in need of a wake-me-up to the reality of limitations on police officers and the entire concept of a “thin blue line.” Only those sitting on ideological extremes will think it anti-cop or pro-cop. Following a veteran cop on the outs, forced into a probationary gig as a 911 call operator after a poor judgement call, director Antoine Fuqua almost makes up for his dreadful Mark Wahlberg actioner Infinite from earlier this year. Almost. Shot during lockdown and featuring an array of supporting vocal performances, movie stars phoning in a favor without phoning it in, The Guilty works primarily because Jake Gyllenhaal is one of our best working actors. He’s essentially on screen for every second of the film, getting his chance to do what Hanks, Hardy, and others have done before him, and he doesn’t disappoint. He’s able to toe the line between ill-tempered asshole and sympathetic hero with plenty of awareness of the many pitfalls if he commits to either one, never allowing the audience to fully love or loathe him as a human being. He’s a microcosm of the psychological and philosophical limitations of so many who too-proudly wear the badge. They’re not all bad people, they’re simply ill-equipped to carry out such an important job, a career that involves more nuance than mowing down villains with prejudice. Fuqua mines such questions of duty, morality, and efficacy when it comes to policing, all while the camera watches a solitary man sitting at a computer station taking 911 emergency calls. The Guilty is deceptively convincing, even if it slowly turns histrionic and inappropriately melodramatic in the final act.

P.S. Listen for phone calls from the likes of Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Riley Keough, and even comedian Bill Burr.

Grade: B

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