The Guilty

Like his Malice co-star Alec Baldwin, Bill Pullman tends to make a bland hero but a terrific villain. Cast as a flat-out good guy, Pullman is stiff and lightweight, less a hero than a smarmy caricature of white-bread heroism. But when he plays a duplicitous heavy or a twisted antihero like his supremely fucked-up detective in Zero Effect, his blank affability takes on a menacing, ironic quality that's both entertaining and unnerving. In The Guilty, Pullman is once again rightly cast as a dyed-in-the-wool baddie, a drunken, heartless, hugely successful lawyer turned judge who openly attributes his business success to his lack of a conscience. But after decades of getting away with bad behavior, Pullman comes under attack from a flirtatious young secretary (Gabrielle Anwar) who threatens to destroy his career after he rapes her. With his blissful life of upscale evil in peril, Pullman attempts to hire a street-smart drifter he's never met (Devon Sawa) to kill Anwar, without realizing that Sawa is actually his illegitimate son. Like a lot of twist-driven neo-noirs, The Guilty plays fast and loose with credibility, forcing viewers to suspend disbelief at every whiplash-inducing turn of events. Sawa's unlikely relation to Pullman is only one of the film's many implausible aspects, which range from minor (Anwar wearing a tiny miniskirt to confront the man who recently raped her) to film-threatening. But, unlike most neo-noirs, The Guilty actually gives viewers reason to suspend disbelief by spinning a smart, enjoyably mean-spirited yarn that crackles with pulpy energy. Pullman seems to revel in playing another flamboyantly evil, over-educated patrician scoundrel, while Sawa not only holds his own, but also looks unmistakably like Pullman's grungy offspring. Stylishly directed by Anthony Waller (An American Werewolf In Paris), The Guilty bears the stigma of the direct-to-video label, but audiences willing to overlook its periodic missteps will be rewarded with a sleek, enjoyable film.

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