Starring Jakob Cedergren
Gustav Möller’s directorial debut is impressive on a variety of fronts. What appears to be another single actor, solitary film, like Phone Booth or Locke, is equally taught and thrilling. Möller and his team create suspense with immaculate sound design that helps the viewer visualize what’s happening on the other side of the phone. The Guilty, like the cheesy American thriller The Call starring Halle Berry, follows an emergency service operator. This character, expertly written and played by Jakob Cedergren, is like an onion that layers off throughout the narrative course. The Guilty is Denmark’s submission for The Academy Awards foreign language category, however it’s lack of social relevance and importance will likely leave it off the final five nominees. In only 90 minutes, this thriller takes the viewer through some intricate and unconventional aspects of an emergency call operator and how assumptions can be dangerous.
Policeman Asger Holm (Cedergren) has been given desk duty after an incident that’s being reviewed by internal investigations. His frustrations with working behind a desk at the emergency call center surface with every call. “I fell off my bike…”, I don’t have time for this he tells the caller and hangs up. “I was robbed…” why are you in the red light district he asks? Asger has little compassion for callers abusing the system. “You don’t need an ambulance for that,” he says before hanging up. He receives a call from a woman named Iben, almost hanging up again, before his kidnapped instincts kick in. He starts asking her only yes and no answers, desperately trying to find her location and what vehicle she is in. Asger learns that children are involved and dedicates the rest of his shift to helping the desperate woman.
With The Guilty, it’s nearly non-stop verbal communication, often silence being the most suspenseful sound. When dispatch won’t answer, we know every second counts. When Iben is quiet, our minds race what might have happened. The viewer must create an entire world by using Asger’s expressions and the vivid, sometimes upsetting sounds, coming from the phone. “We are protectors,” Asger comfort’s a child. “We protect people who need help”. It’s clear Asger isn’t the best at his job, following orders, protocol are major stumbling blocks. He wants to do things his own way but has justice at the heart of his intentions.
The script does an excellent job spotlighting the difference in training for a police officer (accustomed to face to face interactions, visible clues and the conclusions of a case) and a emergency service operator (who is the entry point of every emergency and must disconnect early in the equation). There is a moment in the film where you might ask yourself what’s worse, seeing the scene that’s being described, or having your mind imagine the horror the person on the other line is witnessing. The Guilty’s biggest down fall is it’s somewhat predictable plot points. If you are really paying attention, you can understand many of the circumstances even before Asger does. In a nuanced way, The Guilty also explores arrogance and how someone so sure of himself as is constantly fouled by what he thinks he understands.
A smart and engaging thriller, The Guilty proves once again how suspenseful a confined one character film can be.