The Guilty

The Guilty ★★★½

Often dismissed as pointless, remakes are a staple of the film industry. A story can be told in many ways, especially if a considerable amount of time has gone by, so a new take approaches it from a different angle. Or a premise is translated from one culture to another. Of course there are movies where one has to be delusional to even contemplate remaking them. For Gus van Sant (or any other filmmaker for that matter) to take on Psycho was a profoundly misguided undertaking, while William Friedkin's Sorcerer may not be a better, but nonetheless worthy reinterpretation of The Wages of Fear.

Which brings me to the question, if Antoine Fuqua's remake of Gustav Möller's Den skyldige was worth the effort? One shouldn't generalize, but I believe there are enough discrepancies in mentality between Americans and Danes that it is justified to examine the premise in a different setting, especially taking into account the issue of rampant police violence in the US.

Fuqua adds a lot more visual flourishes to his film, but True Detective scribe Nic Pizzolatto's screenplay retains most of the original structure and dialogue. I'd say 90% is identical, while within the remaining 10% lies the rub. I was absolutely certain that the remake would do two things. The first is to make the central character more likable, the second is to change the fate of another character. I was only right about the latter. For the majority of the film Gyllenhaal's Joe is a veritable piece of shit, way more than Asger in the original was. He's exactly the type that shouldn't be allowed to wear a badge or a gun. For about two thirds of the film Gyllenhaal gives a masterfully restrained performance. Deeply rooted rage issues simmer below Joe's barely kept composure. At no time is it not clear, that this is a dangerous guy. So far, so good. But then the script wimps out with a cowardly attempt to redeem Joe and Gyllenhaal's performance becomes very actorly. It's still fun to watch, because I'm not generally opposed to showy performances, but by taking that direction, the film missed the opportunity to say something meaningful about the state of America's police force. As a thriller and exercise in suspense, though, Fuqua's The Guilty still works well enough to give it a try.

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