The Netflix thriller that recently caught my attention was The Guilty, based on a 2018 Danish thriller of the same name.
Joe Baylor (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a police officer who works in the emergency dispatch unit. While he handles a case that he himself took upon him, there are constant references to the next day, which seems pretty important.
A reporter Katherine calls him twice, he mentions it to his case partner Rick and his wife Jess as well. Finally, we get to know that he is guilty of having shot a boy while on duty and the next day was supposed to be his hearing.
At the end, Joe pleads guilty of his crime on court despite there being prior plans to make sure he gets away with it. The last case he deals with before his hearing, the case of Emily Litham definitely had a part to play in that.
Joe pleads guilty of his crime of manslaughter because dealing with Emily’s unexpected case made him introspect and gain insight of his actions and its consequences. He was already guilty in his mind but this case helped him make up his mind to confess his crime.
Here’s what might have led to him taking this decision and eventually understand his mistakes.
What is Joe Guilty of?
The film begins with Joe responding to emergency calls on 911, while he seemed quite tensed regarding a court hearing for an incident that took place 8 months ago. While Joe is shown working, a Los Angeles Times reporter keeps calling him asking about this court hearing.
At this point, we do not know what this “hearing” is about. Things begin to pick up pace in the film when Joe receives a call at 911 from a woman named Emily, who claims that she is being kidnapped.
After getting hold of some details and having a conversation with Emily’s 6 year old daughter Abby by calling her residence, Joe comes to the conclusion that Emily has been abducted by her ex-husband Henry.
So, Joe begins his investigation going out of his job boundaries, considering he works at the Emergency Dispatch Unit.
Though at the end, he manages to save Emily and learn the truth about her (which is nothing like he had assumed initially), the case makes Joe introspect and relate it to his own situation. As a result, he changes his mind and decided to confess his crimes.
Joe is guilty of having shot a 19 year old boy named Joseph while being on duty possibly owing to his impatience and anger issues. This is what the upcoming court hearing mentioned multiple times in the film was all about.
“I wanted to punish him because I was angry. He hurt someone.” Says Joe. In fact, when Emily asked him why he did that, his automatic response was “I don’t know. I could.”
So, Joe was guilty of murder of manslaughter. At the end, Joe called up the Los Angeles Times reporter Katherine. Their conversation was not shown in the film, but the ending news snippets confirmed that he confessed his crime in his statement to her.
Why does Joe Plead Guilty?
Joe does not explicitly state why he decided to plead guilty of his crime. But through his actions, much of why he made this decision can be gathered, I guess.
Joe was visibly already guilty in his mind. He was tensed and constantly ended up losing patience while handling Emily’s case. Probably he took up Emily’s case going out of his way to gain back his confidence and get reminded of his heroism as a police officer.
Somewhere down the line, Joe knew that what he did was wrong and that it was justified of him to face the charges, which is why we see him constantly try to redeem himself. Interestingly, he was not trying to convince anyone else of his efficiency as a cop, but himself.
I think the fact that he was wrong about Emily affected him and he was unable to regain his confidence as a cop. This also played a role in his confession of his crimes.
Emily’s case reaffirmed that he was in the wrong because she needed help which he as a cop was not qualified to provide. This case made Joe gain more insight of his own actions and he constantly fights to come to terms with what he did to Joseph.
Another reason could be his insecurity. For a moment, when Joe thought he had lost Emily, this affected him really badly. He was also the one who made wrong assumptions about Henry and led Emily to hit him and escape.
With a burden of guilt already so heavy, he probably felt that he could not bear more guilt if anything happened to Emily.
Joe’s guilt was the reason for his constant stress, mental issues and lack of patience. So, I would say he plead guilty above all to get rid of this guilt which was like slow poison for him.
Emily’s case was not the reason, but only the catalyst that made Joe realize the value of human life. Besides, I guess he could relate to Emily in a way.
Emily ended up almost killing her infant son Oliver because she thought she was helping him as he had “snakes in his stomach.”
Though in Emily’s case she was a psychiatric patient, Joe could relate his own situation to hers because he too probably killed the boy with the POV that he is helping the system in the longer run or punishing the guilty and being a saviour.
Talking to Abby may have also reminded him of his own daughter whom he constantly misses.
All in all, while Joe was working on the Emily case, he introspected on his own actions and realized what he did was wrong and that his position cannot enable him to take advantage of his power.
He simply killed a boy because he could and wanted to assert that dominance. This may have happened subconsciously, but this is definitely a reason. This is what Joe realizes.
All of these reasons may have led Joe to take the decision of confessing his crimes and coming clean because that way he could atleast be true to himself.
Is it a true story?
The Guilty is an adaptation of a 2018 Danish film of the same name (Den Skyldige translates to the guilty). This film was loosely inspired from a real 911 call. But not everything in the story of either film was true.
Director of Den Skyldige, Gustav Moller has explained that the story was based on a real 911 call that he had heard on Youtube. In this actual call, a kidnapped woman spoke to the officer in code while she sat next to her kidnapper.
Moller took inspiration from this real life phone call, but the plot is not entirely based on real events. Similarly, The Guilty is also based on the same premise, but the plot is nothing like the real events.
The directors basically took a thread out of the real life phone call and built something of their own out of it. The Guilty also added the significant plot line about Joe being guilty.
About The Guilty
The Guilty is an upcoming American crime thriller film, serving as a remake of the 2018 Danish film (Den Skyldige) of the same name. It is directed and produced by Antoine Fuqua, from a screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto.
After a limited theatre release, it will be available on Netflix, October 1 onwards.
It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Bayler who answers a distressing 911 call that takes him down the path of dangerous events. Cast members include Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Riley Keough, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Paul Dano, and Bill Burr.