Starring: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Johan Olsen
Director: Gustav Möller
Running Time: 85 mins
The Guilty (Den skyldige) is a Danish film about an emergency call operator who finds himself in a race against time after receiving a call from a kidnapped woman.
Simple, slick and self-contained, The Guilty proves that films don’t need to be demanding to be both exciting and deeply enthralling. Spending the entire runtime within the confines of an emergency service call centre, The Guilty makes ingenious use of a clever screenplay, a brilliant central performance and excellent directing to provide deep dramatic intrigue and shocking twists throughout.
First things first, if you’re not keen on the idea of spending an entire film in one office with one man, then this film may not be your cup of tea. Unlike the similarly-focused The Call, which moves out of the emergency dispatch into a frankly over-the-top crime thriller out on the streets, The Guilty stays with our telephone operator as he attempts to resolve a seemingly desperate situation from his desk, using all the tools at his disposal as the crime in progress is detailed to him over the phone.
And that’s where The Guilty works so well. Unlike The Call, which turns into a full-blown action thriller by the end, The Guilty works like a good crime novel, as you hear a crime unfold over the phone, but the film leaves it to your imagination and interpretation to fill in the blanks. As a result, the grittier, darker elements of the story hit home even harder – as your imagination is always able to come up with something more shocking than what you can see in front of you – but it also leaves the door open for real ambiguity to come into the picture.
So, as we follow our main man, Asger, as he attempts to resolve a kidnapping from his desk, we become just as engrossed in the situation at hand, working with him as he deduces and interprets what he can from the phone conversations he has. However, as you never see anything with your own eyes, there’s always a niggling feeling in the back of your head that things may not be as they seem, and that the situation you think is unfolding could change dramatically at any moment.
Throughout, The Guilty thrills with some stunning twists and turns of fate, and although you can put your faith in the competence of Asger as he follows up whatever leads he can, the film begins to introduce small crumbs of doubt and unpredictability into the situation, making the film all the more exciting as it builds towards a thrilling crescendo.
Director Gustav Möller does a fantastic job right the way through, brilliantly bringing such a simple and slick story to life in exhilarating fashion. The film is patiently paced and cleverly balanced throughout, with a brilliant combination of dark, gritty crime drama and a degree of deeply captivating emotional drama powering the film along, all furthered by a fantastic lead turn from Jakob Cedergren that brilliantly matches the film’s darker vibes, as well as its often quiet, pensive and patient style.
Overall, I was hugely impressed with The Guilty. It’s not an action-packed crime thriller, but with ingenious writing and clever directing that leaves a lot of the best drama and thrills up to your interpretation and imagination, it proves a deeply enthralling watch, furthered by exhilarating twists and great depth throughout, along with a powerhouse central performance. All in all, it is a fairly simple and self-contained watch, and not the mentally demanding thriller you may expect, but it has more than enough excitement and unpredictability to grab you right from start to finish, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.1.