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The Guilty
cast: Bill Pullman, Devon Sawa, Gabrielle Anwar, and Joanne Whalley

director: Anthony Waller

108 minutes (15) 2002
widescreen ratio 16:9
Mosaic DVD Region 2 rental
Also available to rent on video

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Petty criminal Nathan, fresh out of prison, discovers that his real father is a big-shot lawyer who's just been appointed a federal judge. He sets off for the big city to find him - but a secretary is blackmailing his father after a drunken fumble turned into rape. He's looking for a way to get rid of her - and when Nathan turns up, tries to recruit him to murder her. After all, who'd be able to trace the actions of a teenage drifter back to him?
   A shocked Nathan doesn't want the job - but his so-called friend needs the money, and soon Nathan's wanted for murder, and his father, discovering their relationship, realises the whole situation is far more complex and incriminating than he'd first thought. His scheming may be Nathan's only chance of survival - but can he be trusted not to turn on his own flesh and blood?
   The Guilty is an odd hybrid of a by-the-numbers 'innocent man on the run' story, and a genuinely ingenious, gripping thriller. There are real surprises in among the slightly melodramatic twists and turns, and strong performances from Devon Sawa and Bill Pullman as father and son energise their ever-changing relationship. Pullman in particular keeps us guessing at his motives throughout, blending his newly discovered fatherly feelings with vicious self-interest.
   However, other elements of the plot have fallen by the wayside. The date-rape scenario is a lazy plot device that relies on some pretty stupid and illogical behaviour from everyone involved. None of the few female characters are entirely convincing; the secretary in particular swings unconvincingly from vulnerable victim to Basic Instinct style manipulator, propelled more by the demands of plot than character. After a sparky opening sequence, a painfully slow 20 minutes introducing all the characters and their dilemmas in awkward, predictable detail doesn't do the story any favours, either.
   Screenwriter William Davies is obviously a man to keep an eye on, but overall, this is a curiosity rather than a must-see; an average thriller rescued by fine acting, and the remaining bare bones of the ingenious masterpiece that it almost was.