The Guilty (2018)
If there is only one movie that demonstrates the ‘less is more’ principle then The Guilty (2018)is it. Set entirely in a police emergency call centre and propelled solely by facial and vocal expression, this thriller is a tension tightrope from beginning to end.
Danish policeman Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is temporarily assigned to a desk job pending a serious allegation to be heard in court tomorrow. He is a complex mix of compassionate policing and cowboy ethics, acting as his own judge and jury in the emergency calls he takes. In one instance, a man is mugged by a hooker and Holm punitively makes him wait on the line for patrol assistance. In another, a drunk woman needs an ambulance for a broken arm but Holm barks “get a taxi”. These lesser emergencies set the scene for what will become a perfect storm of misjudgement.
A distressed woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage) calls, pretending to be addressing her daughter. She is locked in the back of van and the abductor is listening; every word spoken by her or Holm could trigger a deadly response. In only seconds, Holm must assess risk to life and extract enough detail to dispatch police assistance. The line goes dead; we wait…and wait, with the camera trained closely on Holm’s eyes and twitching lips. The line re-opens, and he continues to piece together some semblance of what is happening. GPS tracking gives him a few clues, but not enough, and a mistaken dispatch costs time.
Parallel narratives overlay the scenario, including his wife having just left him, false testimony being conspired for court tomorrow, and the promise he made to Iben’s 7-year old daughter that her mother will be safe. He finishes his shift but cannot let go, sticking on the case as it twists and turns towards its unpredictable climax. Forensic guesswork and luck are his main tools, and the audience is swept along for the ride.
What is most remarkable about this film is how it leaves viewers feeling they have seen a full feature thriller, including the characters we have only heard and the dramatic scenes and graphic violence we have only visualised. It is a finely balanced essay on morality which both admires Holm’s intense dedication yet finds his methods disturbing. Welcome to the realpolitik of policing.
This film essentially has a cast of one plus voices, with Jakob Cedergren difficult to like but excelling in the role. The few slips in believability do little to detract from the film’s overall impact, such as Holm’s loud smashing of police property without rebuke from superiors and his deviation from established emergency centre protocols. Swift pacing, sharp editing, and hold-your-breath tension makes this a standout film that also offers instructive glimpses into the work of emergency personnel.
Director: Gustav Moeller
Stars: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage