Jake Gyllenhaal has no problem keeping an audience captivated for 90 minutes as the actor takes center stage in the remake of Denmark’s 2018 Oscar submission “Den skyldige” directed by Gustav Möller with an exceptional Jakob Cedergren in the spotlight. The big difference between the two films is how the actors handle the role. Fuqua also adds an extra layer of anxiety to the script which suites Gyllenhaal’s high-strung performance.
Working with a bigger budget, Fuqua’s film moves away from the dark drabby call center of the Danish thriller for a bigger set that resembles a war room filled with high-definition monitors. Of course, they are used to capture the wildfires outside Los Angeles which are used to intensify the situation at hand, a kidnapped woman, a white van, and a desperate search to find the vehicle before the situation escalates.
Officer Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal) has been temporarily assigned to desk duty; the film slowly unveils the reason as the story progresses. He’s stuck answering 911 calls, clearly, a job he’s not cut out for after lecturing a caller and then hanging up. But when he receives a phone call that sounds like a wrong number, he immediately recognizes the distress in the woman’s frail voice as she pretends to hold a conversation with a young child. The woman, Emily Lighton, is voiced by Riley Keough. She’s crying while explaining “I’m out for a drive, sweetie, okay?” which prompts Joe to ask yes or no questions establishing that Emily is not alone and the person with her doesn’t know she’s called 911.
After determining that Emily has been abducted by someone with a weapon, Joe jumps into action, dispatching the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to search for a white van. There are several factors at play hindering the time-sensitive situation. First, the LA fires are making it difficult to find any vehicle. Second, they don’t have a license plate number so every white van is a protentional target. And third, Emily’s young children are home alone and in possible danger.
In the Danish film, Cedergren has nerves of steel dealing with the situation. His demeanor is calm and cool. His facial expressions rarely change as his fingers tap the desk anxiously. Finally, he reaches a breaking point and releases his pent-up energy by smashing a lamp. That scene remains intact in the remake; however, Gyllenhaal gives us a different interpretation of the character. Joe is animated, he screams at his colleagues, eyes bulge, sweat rolls down his face, yelling “C’mon!” when CHP informs him that they need more information. When he smashes the lamp it’s expected, in the original film that moment comes as a surprise.
Gyllenhaal’s animated performance is better suited to the actor. It works. It never feels over the top and frankly had he chosen to play the role like Cenergren it would have felt artificial. That said, there are plenty of closeups of Gyllenhaal staring at a monitor with a grimace, and closeups of his fingers speed dialing, as the actor delivers a commanding performance. He shows restraint when contacting Emily’s young daughter to assure her that help is on the way.
Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, and Paul Dano lend their voices to the film that should earn respect for all the 911 dispatchers who work tirelessly to get help to those in need, and usually in a calmer manner than LAPD’s Joe Baylor.
Now streaming on Netflix and showing in select theaters