The Guilty (2000) / Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence, language, and sexuality
Running Time: 108 min.

Cast: Bill Pullman, Devon Sawa, Gabrielle Anwar, Angela Featherstone, Joanne Whalley, Anthony Waller (cameo)
Director: Anthony Waller
Screenplay: William Davies (based on the novel by Simon Burke)
Review published January 10, 2002

Director Anthony Waller made quite a splash debut with the clever Hitchcockian exercise in suspense with Mute Witness in 1994, but hasn't exactly lived up to the promise shown in it since.  His next film was the critical and commercial misfire, An American Werewolf in Paris, which was arguably bad for reasons not necessarily related to him.

I had some hope for a comeback now that Waller returns to the genre he knows best, thrillers, with The Guilty, but I came away disappointed.   Its unevenness may be attributed to the fact that Waller isn't comfortable working with the writing of others, adapted from Simon Burke's novel by screenwriter William Davies, whose only works of note are throwaway comedies like Twins and Stoo, or My Mom Will Shoot!.  During the few scenes that require suspense, Waller seems to find the right footing -- he's good at it. A shame that the drama is poorly handled, while the cast of interesting actors are never quite in synch with the material.

Bill Pullman (Lake Placid, Independence Day) stars as Callum Crane, a hotshot defense attorney with his aspirations finally being realized in serving as a Federal judge.  Before that fortunate event, he gets sloshed and comes on to Sophie (Anwar, My Little Assassin), the new secretary in the office, unable to stop from forcing himself on her.  Although apologetic, the office is rife with tension between the two, and soon Callum feels it's best to let her go. 

After being sexually harassed, raped, and fired in one week, Sophie can't bear the fact that Callum has been promoted to a judge and threatens to spread the word of his deeds unless he gives up the bench.  Not seeing any other way out, Callum attempts to hire a hitman to snuff her out, in the form of a young ex-con named Nathan (Sawa, Final Destination), who coincidentally also happens to be the son he didn't know about who is looking for him now that he's reached adulthood.  Nathan wants nothing to do with it, but one of his lowlife friends in need of paying off some local thugs manages to get the money and details of the person to be iced, making it his own mission to see the deed through.

As convoluted as that plot sounds, I didn't even mention the fact that Sophie is the roommate of the woman Nathan befriends, who is kind enough to let him stay in their apartment while he tries to introduce himself to dear old dad.  Too much plot crammed into too little movie, and a wholly farfetched plot at that, leads to concocting some serious contrivances and heavily manipulated situations in order to work. 

The only way to make this hard-to-swallow trash fly would be to play it up for some tongue-in-cheek laughs (like Mute Witness), but neither Waller nor Davies see the humor in such unrealistic material and they make the fatal mistake of going for serious drama and tension.  Going for seriousness only makes the film all the more funnier, albeit unintentionally, because the only entertainment that's left for us is to laugh at all of the amazing coincidences and guess what predictably boneheaded turn the story takes from scene to scene. 

After seeing this, I'm beginning to believe Waller is a one-trick-pony who knows how to deliver suspense but not much else.  Hopefully, he realizes it as well, so he can go back to that which made him impress us in his first big film, well-written suspensers.  The Guilty more adequately will describe the feeling amongst most viewers should they decide to pay money to rent this one.  After viewing it, you may want to lock it up, throw away the key, and serve the death penalty to your Blockbuster rental card. 

 Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo