Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is a police officer under investigation for the illegal shooting of a suspect. While protesting his innocence, he finds himself restricted to working the emergency telephone lines night after night. On the last night of work before his disciplinary tribunal is held, a terrified woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage) calls having been kidnapped from her own home. Asger is forced to rescue her and catch her kidnapper – all from the confines of his desk.
The Guilty is one of the freshest and most tense crime thrillers of recent years. It is tense because it features a whip-smart plot with several twists and surprises. It feels fresh because not only does Asger never leave the office, neither does the audience. The entire feature takes place in an emergency call centre, with the victim, kidnapper, witnesses and field cops only featuring via a telephone line. It creates something that almost feels like a hybrid of film and radio drama. It forces the audience to imagine the action by themselves, and there’s plenty of action to be imagined. As is often the trend with so-called ‘Nordic Noir’, the violence gets rather blunt and trends towards the actively horrific. It’s arguably even more savage than usual, since The Guilty doesn’t show you horrors so much as describe them to you for you to imagine by yourself.
Such a deliberately limited presentation places a lot of responsibility on both acting and writing. The screenplay is by director Gustav Möller with Emil Nygaard Albertsen, and positively nails the tension required to make the film work. It is not a long film by any stretch, but it still wisely utilises a slow build as a kidnapping turns into a murder, and that murder begins to ratchet up Asger’s own tensions about the killing of which he has been accused. It builds the facts behind the kidnapping like a jigsaw puzzle, as each revelation forces the viewer to reconsider what they have already heard. Once events reach a climax, Möller is quick to exit the film while the audience is still reeling. It’s good that the film is as tightly edited as it is – much more of this level of tension and it would risk becoming unbearable.
Jakob Cedergren does a sensational job playing Asger. It is a hugely demanding role. The majority of the film is dominated by his face in close-up, requiring an enormously subtle performance to both maintain tension and avoid over-acting. It is a pressure-cooker role, with Asger being critical to Iben’s survival yet feeling powerless as a field officer stuck on the telephone, and not well-liked by his colleagues for being a hothead or widely trusted due to his shooting incident. The performance is as close to faultless as to make no odds.
This is a remarkable, must-see thriller, and one of the strongest narrative features of the past decade. It is remarkable that it marks the directorial debut for Gustav Möller. If his first shot is this strong, he is definitely a director to keep an eye on in future. The Guilty announces a major new filmmaking talent. Check out this original masterpiece before the Hollywood remake hits Netflix this weekend.
This review was originally published at FilmInk.