Courtesy of Magnolia pictures
If you loved Tom Hardy in “Locke” or Halle Berry in “The Call” you’re going to love “The Guilty.” A taunt, short, and skillfully muscle-tensing Danish thriller to which you can hear the echoes of Tinseltown execs opting for the rights to produce it in America.
A low budget film, “The Guilty,” from Gustav Moller in his directorial debut, is about as high concept as you could get. Anchored by a strong performance from the indispensable Jakob Cedergren as an emergency police dispatcher named Asger who picks up on a kidnapping case with more at stake then what’s being disclosed. Moller’s claustrophobic film never leaves the call center, but builds a time-ticking narrative around the receiving end of the phone, forcing our imaginations to create the visuals. All the while slowly unraveling Asgar’s own frail mental state.
It doesn’t take long for “The Guilty” to swiftly engage in motion - as Moller’s precise storytelling clocks this movie in at a breezy 85 minutes - as Asger isn’t the ‘typical’ voice you’d hear when you call the police. He’s frank, and not afraid to call you out: “Maybe you shouldn’t ride a bike while intoxicated,” he tells a frantic woman on the phone. So it’s no surprise when we find out it’s not his usual routine. Instead, a police officer that has been removed from the scene for reasons only briefly implied in passing. His mental fuse seems to be on the short side - one of the more eerily contributing factors to this tightly wound roller coaster ride.
His attention is quickly alerted when he receives a strange phone call from a women calling him “Sweetie.” We find out her name is Iben (though never seen Jessica Dinnage’s vocal presence is felt throughout the whole movie), a young mother of two claiming to have been kidnapped by her ex-husband Michael (Johan Olsen). Her call, made from the inside of a white van, in which she’s being driven to an unknown location, triggers some quick finger work by Asger, calling everyone he can to track down her whereabouts. But pinpointing her location isn’t as easy as it should be, having to backtrack and call in some favors to help triangulate where Iben could be heading. A breadcrumb trail that leads to some shocking discoveries in many of the films twisted and loopy surprises.
For only 85 minutes, “The Guilty” never leaves the square-jawed face of Asger for one second of screentime. He tells this story, and Moller expertly crafts tension in areas you might not expect. It manages to intertwine two conjoining stories of police brutality and an impending court case hearing for Asger very subtly. Shot mostly in intrusive close-ups angles, Cedergren carries the weight of this film; specifically in his vocal inflection, and as a character trying his best to do the right thing.
It’s a minimalist setup, to say the least, but this crew makes the best of what they got. “The Guilty” takes the audience on a stunner of a journey, a circus act that manages to balance not only the events on screen, but your own psychological state as a whole.