“The Guilty”, which was selected as the Danish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2019 Academy awards and was recently included in the category short-list early in this month, is a taut, suspenseful thriller which is quite impressive in many aspects. While tightly confined in a single setting, the movie dexterously increases the level of suspense along its increasingly tense plot, and the overall result surely exemplifies well the power of efficient storytelling via editing, sound design, and performance.
In the beginning, we are introduced to Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren), a police officer who has recently worked at an Emergency Services call center due to some problematic incident. As going through the last hour of his monotonous worktime, he callously handles a couple of phone calls received by him, and we gradually come to sense that he does not like this job at all and is prone to make quick assumptions on those people at the other end of the line. For instance, he virtually disregards the phone call from a drug addict who seems to be in a serious need of help after using drug, and then he deliberately lets some mugged guy agitated for a while just because he thinks that guy had it coming.
After he gets asleep for a few minutes, Asger receives another phone call, and it comes from a woman who is quite scared and frantic as being taken to somewhere against her will. Once he comes to see that how serious her situation is, Asger does everything he can do in his position. While getting some necessary pieces of information from her, he tries to locate where she exactly is at present, and he also makes sure that her children, who happen to be left at her residence, are visited by the police.
Once the police begin to search for that woman and a certain guy involved with her, it looks like Asger did as much as he could do for her, but he cannot help but become more occupied with this ongoing circumstance mainly because he feels more responsibility after he promises to that woman’s young daughter that her mother will return to home safely. He keeps focusing on finding any possible way to locate and then save that woman, and he becomes more determined to solve this situation even though he can possibly cross some lines for that.
As Asger gets himself involved more and more into this circumstance, the movie steadily accumulates tension on the screen step by step through a series of superb scenes which are solely based on his reactions and what he hears from the other end of the line. In case of one particular scene, we merely listen to the phone along with Asger while a certain place is being searched by the police, but we gradually come to brace ourselves for fearing for the worst, and then the movie delivers one of its most dramatically impactful moments while still focusing on Asger as usual.
And we also get to know more about Asger as he comes to show more of himself along the story. Pressured a lot by the consequence of the aforementioned incident, he has been nervous about going to the court for his testimony on that incident, and so has his partner, who reluctantly helps Asger for finding any possible clue to that woman’s whereabout. As a flawed man consumed by growing guilt, he clearly wants to do the right thing for getting a sort of redemption, but then, like Harry Caul in “The Conversation” (1974) or J.J. Gittes in “Chinatown” (1974), he belatedly comes to realize that he does not know what is exactly going on out there, and we get a gut-chilling moment when he faces the price of his hasty assumption and judgement later in the story.
While providing a few little moments of humor, the movie continues to hold our attention during its short running time (85 minutes), and director Gustav Möller, who wrote the screenplay with his co-writer Emil Nygaard Albertsen, skillfully maintains its sharp, focused intensity via a succinct but effective visual approach. While there are several other people at the Emergency Services call center besides Asger, the camera seldom looks at them, and this visual approach further emphasizes his isolated status as well as his accumulating anxiety and frustration.
As the center of the movie, Jakob Cedergren ably carries the film alone with his strong performance, and he is as impressive as Tom Hardy in “Locke” (2013), which is also solely driven by a series of urgent phone conversations between its hero confined in a single setting and some other characters at the other end of the line. Cedergren is terrific as subtly conveying to us the feelings and thoughts churning behind his character’s seemingly calm façade, and the finale of the movie works mainly thanks to what he and the movie have diligently built up to that point. He and other several performers who provide voice performances for the film are believable in their interactions on the phone, and Jessica Dinnage, Omar Shargawi, Johan Olsen, and Katinka Evers-Jahnsen are solid as the unseen key characters of the story.
On the whole, “The Guilty” thrilled and entertained me a lot through its masterful execution of its simple premise. While its chance of getting Oscar-nominated in next year looks rather slim compared to other strong contenders including “Roma” (2018) and “Shoplifters” (2018), it is definitely one of better thriller films of this year, and I sincerely recommend you to not to miss this superlative genre piece.