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The Guilty and The Many Saints of Newark

click to enlarge Jake Gyllenhaal would like to talk to the owner of the vehicle.

The Guilty

Jake Gyllenhaal would like to talk to the owner of the vehicle.

THE GUILTY. I've long bridled at Hollywood remakes (I suppose we're calling them reboots now) of recent international movies. For one, the practice speaks to the corporatized murder of imagination that has taken hold in the American cinema industry, whereby original screenplays are, by are large, passed over in favor of pre-existing properties. Secondly, it reinforces the false exceptionalism of said industry, separating art from other continents and, heaven forfend, other languages into a sub-category, a pool of "less-than" art that then becomes a well from which the vultures might drink.

I acknowledge that's a little cantankerous and anachronistic. To frame it a little less angrily: What would it hurt for American studios or distributors to license or acquire these international properties and re-release them for domestic audiences, particularly now, in the age of streaming? This presumes those domestic audiences would watch something with subtitles at all, and that dog likely will not hunt. Further, attaching a bankable American star/director/writer goes a great distance toward marketability and commercial success. And so, once again, my frustration has met my cynicism and retired into resignation.

The Guilty is adapted from a Danish picture of the same title (Den Skyldige) from 2018 — incidentally, it is currently available on Hulu — with a screenplay by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto. To be fair, though, a screenplay credit might be generous: This is a beat-for-beat, sometimes word-for-word translation of the source material with a little texture and a few grace notes overlaid. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, who has been proficiently making very successful, large-scale, middle-of-the-road action movies for half my lifetime, it stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a 911 dispatcher caught in a caller's domestic nightmare, set against his own ambiguous professional and personal crises.

Perhaps I should have led with this: I like The Guilty (this version and the original) quite a lot. Despite my disinclination toward this school of cinema, I won't argue with work that is competently and compellingly presented.

Pizzolatto (whose work I have enjoyed but who I think may be a bit of a charlatan) and Fuqua move the action from wintry Copenhagen to Los Angeles in the midst of late-summer wildfires. Joe Baylor (Gyllenhaal), whom we will learn has been temporarily demoted from street duty to the call center, slogs through a shift of minor accidental overdoses, robbery by prostitute, bicycle injuries and the like. But then he fields a call from a woman who seems to have been abducted by her ex-husband. Joe scrambles to investigate the crime and apprehend the suspect from his headset, sometimes by extra-legal means, all while wrestling with his own anxiety, angst, asthma and impending dissolution.

Maybe because this was a COVID production, Fuqua turns down the theatrics, simplifying and focusing his attention on Gyllenhaal's performance. Which, because he has become our preeminent avatar of onscreen anguish, is of course immediately compelling. Compared to the civility and composure of the Danish original, it might seem a little over the top, but set against a standard thriller, it plays quiet and reserved, though equally intense and involving. R. 90M. NETFLIX.

MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK. I haven't read any criticism of this but a little bird tells me it isn't being entirely well-received, which I don't understand. There seems to be some sort of backlash against prestige television (which The Sopranos basically created), even as it overtakes movies as the preeminent informer of contemporary popular culture. Maybe I'm misinformed.

I like The Sopranos; everybody does. I appreciate the sophistication and care with which it was imagined and constructed. I also appreciate it for its irony and cynicism, attributes that seem to be lost on some of the audience, even if I don't see it as the ur-text of modern crime drama.

To me, The Many Saints is an ideal coda to the series, even all these years on, because it eschews the formal structure and familiar faces (for the most part), offering a prequel as final chapter. Written by creator David Chase and Lawrence Konner, and directed by Alan Taylor (who directed a great number of TV episodes we have all seen), the movie opens in Newark, 1967, after a pastiche of voices from the Bardo. Anthony Soprano is just a kid and afraid of the life lived by his father Johnny (Jon Bernthal) and his associates. But he also worships his "uncle" Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), who becomes the center of the narrative. Dickie, founded on contradictions, is an attentive, sensitive man capable of unspeakable violence and treachery; an appropriate role model for the Tony we come to know in the series. As Newark is consumed by the flames of racial tension, a now teenaged Tony (played by Michael Gandolfini) struggles with ways to help his family and avoid the lifetime of dangerous secrecy laid out before him. Simultaneously, Dickie tries to temper his inner monster with intentional acts of kindness. Both find limited success.

Lavishly stylized, funny and horrible, and grittily true to the minutiae of life that transcend movies and gangster-ism and culture, The Many Saints of Newark serves both as a standalone contribution to American organized crime cinema and as an entirely suitable introduction and farewell to characters we came to know over the course of six immersive seasons of television. R. 120M. BROADWAY, HBO MAX, MILL CREEK.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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