Film: The Guilty

Danish thriller The Guilty (2018) is a smart little film that makes the most of limited assets. Relying almost entirely on one actor, a claustrophobic set, and a taut, real-time script, it’s about a police officer named Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren), who is manning an emergency services switchboard. An initially run-of-the-mill shift reveals Asger to be disgruntled but generally competent, handling calls with confidence, if questionable enthusiasm. The night takes a turn when he fields a call from a young woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage), who speaks to him in a kind of code. He deduces from context that Iben has been kidnapped, and he immediately begins working diligently to figure out where she is and direct help to her location. It ends up being a complicated, tense evening of fraught calls to coworkers, victims, and suspects, which also gradually end up peeling away the mystery of Asger’s tenuous professional situation.

The Guilty doesn’t serve up much to look at: two rooms, a handful of minor supporting characters, and Cedergren, upon whom the whole affair depends. Fortunately he’s up to the task, and director Gustav Möller turns the small scope of his point of view into a real asset. Restricting the perspective to Asger’s location heightens the suspense, forcing him to experience the frustration and impatience someone in his situation—desperate to help someone in peril, but with only a switchboard at his disposal—would most likely go through. It also affords the script several judicious reveals as to his character: the ways he’s good at his job, the ways his impulsive shortcuts get him into trouble, and how his in-the-moment behaviors ultimately inform the the backstory. The voice acting on the other end of the phone lines—particular from Dinnage and Katinka Evers-Jahnsen (as Iben’s six-year-old daughter Mathilde)—contributes greatly to the drama. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, and the payoff doesn’t entirely live up to the build-up, but it’s an impressive example of less-is-more filmmaking.

 

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