Movie Review: The Guilty

By Justin Prinsloo 27.09.2019

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The Guilty (UK Rating: 15)

What makes a good thriller? The answer to this question has been in a constant state of evolution since the dawn of cinema, but Danish filmmaker Gustav Möller seems to have grasped at the elusive solution in his latest film, the award-winning The Guilty. Drawing inspiration from Locke (2013), the film takes place in a single location throughout: an emergency services call centre in Denmark. Policeman Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) receives a distressing call from a kidnapped woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage). In order to save her, Asger must use his instinct and his limited manoeuvrability as a 911 operator to aid those in the field in locating the endangered Iben.
It's an overused term, but it's apt in describing The Guilty: this film is a nail-biter from start to finish. Cedergren's performance is nothing short of inspired, and it had to be; his character is on screen almost without pause for the duration. It's no wonder he received multiple awards for his role as Asger Holm - Cedergren captures perfectly the fatigue, stress and frustration of being a phone operator for emergency services. Every single one of his inflections throughout the film is spot-on, and the subtleties in his performance are truly remarkable, doubly so given that he has to bounce his talent off of little more than a voice over the phone for the majority of the film.
There is a fine balance that has to be struck here - if the script is too run-of-the-mill then the plot is boring; if the plot doesn't move along at the perfect pace then the whole tale unravels. Writer/director Gustav Möller gets almost everything just right, resulting in a suspenseful and unpredictable tale full of twists and turns. While there are some discrepancies in his scriptwriting - such as Asger's co-workers ignoring him going rogue simply to serve the plot - Möller has crafted a mostly-believable and undeniably thrilling piece of cinema.

Möller's prime achievement is perhaps the character of Asger Holm himself. Asger is brash and ill-tempered but also shows some insight and a tenacity for making the occasional shrewd decision. It's this conflict in his character that makes the twists and turns unpredictable; it's impossible to know which side of him will show up at a crucial moment. He makes some terrible decisions and some insightful ones. He's utterly human, and this makes him absorbing to watch.
Alongside the fine work of Jakob Cedergren is the evocative talent of Jessica Dinnage. Her character, Iben, never appears onscreen but nevertheless feels present because of her chemistry with Cedergren and the excellent sound design. To be sure, the whole cast is fantastic and it's impossible to pick out a weak link - the strong performances of the voiced characters make it seem as though Asger is in multiple places at once. Further cementing this impression is sound designer Oskar Skriver. The sound effects are top-notch: windscreen wipers and road noises paint a picture of Iben and her captor as they cruise along the freeway, while the subtle noises of a bar betray the fact that a certain character is not where he says he is. It is fantastic filmmaking - the audience is made to rely on imagination rather than having every scene spoon-fed through garish scene changes. Simplicity is key in The Guilty, and it is harnessed as well as it possibly can be.
Most of the plot development occurs while Asger is on the phone with Iben or the handful of other characters, but it's the quiet moments in between these calls when he stares off into space or rubs his knuckles worriedly that the nuances of his character are revealed. He is clearly troubled, haunted even, which lends his dialogue with others all the more urgency. This is how to bring a fictional character to life - not by giving them odd, dramatic mannerisms but by allowing them space and quiet for their inner demons to peek out from behind the human façade. The Guilty rarely take its foot off the gas for the entirety of its 85-minute runtime, careening full-tilt towards a satisfying and haunting finale. It serves as a classy reminder that films needn't be expensive to be epic, or be flashy to captivate an audience.
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10
The Guilty is an intense and entertaining thriller with some excellent performances, pulse-pounding twists and intelligent sound design. Jakob Cedergren steals the show as intense cop Asger Holm, and the supporting cast is solid and often just as good as he is. While there are some plot holes that exist purely so that the story can steam along, this is nevertheless a top-drawer film that is original, smart and memorable.

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