By Lynn Venhaus
An American remake that is as tense and gripping as the 2018 Danish original, “The Guilty” will surprise with its carefully crafted twists in a story you think you have figured out – but assumptions are a dangerous tool.

“The Guilty” takes place over the course of a single morning in a 911 dispatch call center. Call operator Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) tries to save an emergency caller in grave danger, but he soon discovers that nothing is as it seems, and facing the truth is the only way out.

Gyllenhaal bought the rights to the acclaimed foreign language film, which won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and was Denmark’s entry for the Oscars (not nominated; “Roma” won) three years ago. (The original is currently streaming on Hulu.)

As a producer, he cast himself as the lead, a demoted police officer working as a 911 dispatcher, and assembled a crackerjack team.

The creative crew – including screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto, of HBO’s “True Detective,” has not changed much, but moved the location from Copenhagen to Los Angeles, where the public safety personnel are involved in quelling wildfires. The call center displays horrific scenes of fire ravaging the landscape on its multi-screens.

Original screenwriters Gustav Moeller, who also directed the 2018 film, and Emile Nygaard Albertsen, had written such a compelling script that it really didn’t need much embellishment. It’s a brilliant example of building tension in a contained area in a race against time.

Above all, the source material illustrated that a rush to judgment is often counterproductive. The takeaway is that one should not jump to conclusions before all the details are available.

One change is the temperament of Baylor. Whereas in the original, Swedish actor Jakob Cedergren played the conflicted police officer with a more stoic demeanor, they both are frustrated by the petty calls clogging up the system and show little patience.

Gyllenhaal is a more intense actor, so he plays Joe with pent-up rage. While he answers routine calls, he seems a little more on edge, his inhaler present. Turns out he has a trial set for the next day, but the charges are not revealed right away. Through his conversations with others, we piece it together.

Emily, a mother of two who is in the process of getting a divorce, calls 911, whispers for help, and Joe soon gets involved in a complicated case. She is frantically voiced by Riley Keough.

Gyllenhaal’s ferocity will sometimes get in the way of cool, calm decision making under pressure. He will say and do things that further heighten a dangerous scenario.

Clearly, his conscience is wrestling with some other issues. As a beat cop, he’s trying to be a hero – is this a means of redemption?

Director Antoine Fuqua knows a thing or two about shooting action films – his collaborations with Denzel Washington include the Equalizer reboot and its sequel, the “Magnificent Seven” remake and Washington’s Oscar winner “Training Day.” He directed Gyllenhaal in “Southpaw.”

Fuqua makes a fairly stagnant situation bristle with adrenaline and anxiety. What kind of peril is Emily in? As the film unfolds, we will be able to see the bigger picture.

The voice work is stellar, as one would expect from the supporting players. Besides Keough being the distraught victim on the other end of the phone, Peter Sarsgaard (Gyllenhaal’s brother-in-law in real life) plays her husband Henry, who is living separately from their family.

Ethan Hawke, an Oscar nominee for “Training Day,” is a police sergeant whose work banter with Joe indicates familiarity. Paul Dano, who directed Gyllenhaal in the underrated “Wildlife,” plays a VIP who is mugged while visiting the City of Angels.

The editing by Jason Ballantine is impressive, and the music score by Brazilian composer Marcelo Zarvos conveys an urgency that increases the helpless feelings coming through the phones.

At a 90-minute runtime, Fuqua keeps it taut, and Gyllenhaal displays the effects of compromised morality that’s a necessary ingredient. While this may not be better than the original – they did this tale first after all, so there is a lack of surprise if you have seen it – but for American audiences experiencing it as new material, this puts the thrill in thriller.

“The Guilty” is a thriller directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Jake Gyllenhaal. Voice work is by Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano. It is Rated R for language throughout and is 90 minutes. In theatres Sept. 24 and streaming on Netflix Oct. 1.
Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus
A road trip from hell, as documented on a viral Twitter thread six years ago, is the starting point for this unusual film.

The genesis of “Zola” is a 148-count tweetstorm by A’ziah King in 2015. Known as Zola, she was working as a Hooters waitress in Detroit, when a customer, an exotic dancer named Stefani (Riley Keough), convinces her to dance for some quick cash – then invites her for a weekend in Florida, also to strip, with the promise of easy money.

But the trip becomes a nightmarish 48-hour odyssey with Stefani prostituting herself while Zola is expected to be an “escort” too. Along for the ride is Stefani’s idiot boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) and her dangerous pimp X (Colman Domingo).

After 86 minutes, I felt like my I.Q. had dropped 50 points and I wanted to take a shower. But like a bad car wreck on the highway, you can’t quit staring at it in disbelief.

The film deals with increasingly dangerous and desperate situations, and when it involves the sex industry, that is to be expected. The film’s subject matter is sleazy, yes, but director Janicza Bravo doesn’t treat it in an overly erotic way, but rather realistically. The transactions are about survival — a way of life in a scuzzy underworld of sex and violence.

However, you are warned –  the graphic sexual content includes close-ups of male genitalia – although less female nudity than one might expect.

While the cast excels at creating these outrageous characters, they really are a sad lot – and if you have seen “The Florida Project” and “Hustlers,” folks without life’s advantages. There’s also similarities to “Spring Breakers,” but really a singular situation.

Riley Keough plays Stefani, a character like the one she played in “American Honey,” only with less of a conscience and a soul. She lives out loud, on stage, and doesn’t give it a second thought. She affects a ‘street’ accent that she might think is cool or tough, but it instead pathetic.

Her doofus of a boyfriend, Derrek, hilariously played by Nicholas Braun (brilliant as Cousin Greg in “Succession,” watches videos and aspires to monetize such videos one day. He is clueless.

While Stefani and Derrek appear to be sorry specimens of the public school system, Zola has street smarts and learned through the school of hard knocks. She refuses to partake in X’s plan and holds her ground. But even she can’t prevent this walk on the wild side.

Just a withering look from Taylour Paige’s Zola, and you know exactly how she feels. Paige, a trained dancer, is a revelation here. Most known for a TV show, “Hit the Floor,” as Zola, she does more in one look than most people do in a string of sentences – and her side-eye is genius. You feel what she’s feeling just on body language alone.

X, as played by the sublime Colman Domingo, is a low-level con artist and morally bankrupt guy shrouded in mystery. Domingo plays him as a man used to living on the edge – but prefers to control the circus. If you saw Morgan Freeman in “Street Smart,” then you know the territory X covers.

Domingo, one of our finest actors, was memorable in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Selma” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” as Regina King’s husband. You see his name in the credits, and you know he’ll deliver. He is explosive in a long-simmering threatening way.

What parts are embellished and what areas stick to the truth aren’t clear – unless you read the 148 tweets, which are no longer on Twitter, but available on different sites.

Zola had something to say, and she let it out. This is the first film, as I recall, based on short unfiltered bursts of exasperation, frustration and just ‘let me tell you what happened to me.’

With social media so extensive in everyone’s lives, of course, we’re here now. But the film is also based on David Kushner’s article in Rolling Stone. Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris, who wrote “Slave Play,” adapted it all for the screen.

The filmmaker has made some interesting choices, most of it fresh and different, which signals that an innovative artist is just getting started. She helmed another unusual indie, “Lemon,” which also opened at Sundance.

“Zola” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival – not this year – and the distributors held it for a big-screen experience. A crowd viewing is the definite way to go.

Nicholas Braun, Riley Keogh, Taylour Paige and Colman Domingo

Not wanting to come across as a snob or prude, this is my reaction to a seamy underbelly of society that we rarely glimpse of in such a revealing way, which is both frightening and troubling at the same time.

In the film business, we haven’t seen the last of any of the principals or the director. “Zola” is one of those zeitgeist movies people will buzz about, because, after all, those tweets went viral.

“Zola” is a 2020 drama-comedy directed by Janicza Bravo and Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo and Nicholas Braun.
Rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, and violence, including a sexual assault, it runs 1 hour, 36 minutes. It is only in theaters beginning June 30. Lynn’s Grade: B-