The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE GUILTY | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - THE GUILTY

the guilty review
Assigned to emergency services dispatch duty while under investigation, a Copenhagen cop becomes invested in the plight of an abducted woman.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Gustav Möller

Starring: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Omar Shargawi, Johan Olsen

the guilty poster


Much like the 2013 Tom Hardy vehicle Locke, director Gustav Möller's feature debut The Guilty (Denmark's 2019 Oscar submission) asks its audience to invest in a singular on-screen protagonist who communicates with the rest of the film's unseen characters over the phone. As such, it's difficult to defend Möller's film from accusations of being anti-cinematic, but like Locke, it's a thoroughly gripping experience nonetheless, one held together by a stellar central performance.

Copenhagen cop Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) has been relegated to answering emergency services calls in a dispatch centre while under investigation for his role in an incident while on duty. It's the evening before he is due to appear in court, and Asger is a ball of tension, taking out his frustration on his co-workers and behaving like an absolute jerk to his callers, including an overdosing junkie whom he threatens to send the police to along with an ambulance, and a prostitute's John whom he judgmentally makes sweat following a mugging in the red light district.

the guilty review

When Asger gets a call from Iben (voiced by Jessica Dinnage), a young woman who seems to be talking in riddles, he initially assumes she's another drunk or stoned time-waster, but his policeman's instinct kicks in and he realises Iben is making the call under duress. Encouraging the distressed woman to pretend she is taking to her child on the phone, Asger is able to ascertain that she has been abducted and is trapped in a white van making its way north of the city.

After alerting the correct authorities, Asger is unsatisfied with how casually they appear to be handling the case, and shutting himself away from his colleagues in a secluded office, he begins an attempt to save Iben on his own terms.

The Guilty shares the same initial premise as the 2013 Hollywood thriller The Call, in which Halle Berry played the dispatch officer who finds herself personally invested in the plight of an abducted girl. Paring that setup down to its core elements and limiting the action strictly to the confines of Asger's workplace, Moller's film plays like a reversal of the usual practice of Hollywood over-dramatising low-key European dramas in commercially oriented remakes. Indeed, should The Guilty be remade for a subtitle averse audience, I imagine the resulting film would be largely indistinguishable from the aforementioned Halle Berry potboiler.

the guilty review

Möller and co-screenwriter Emil Nygaard Albertsen spin out their twisty tale in expert fashion, feeding both Asger and the audience enough details to fool both into believing they have a grasp on the scenario, only to pepper the plotline with twists that keep us guessing as to the true nature of the drama unfolding in Asger's headset.

The Guilty is similar in a fashion to the recent spate of thrillers that play out on computer screens (the Unfriended movies; Searching) and Möller uses silence and dead air in the same way those films use their protagonists' hovering mouse icons and flashing cursors. When the desperate characters on the other end of Asger's line suddenly hang up or are ambiguously cut off, the implications are truly chilling, and we share Asger's frustrations when his attempts to reconnect are met with goofy voicemail messages.

the guilty review

Möller pulls off the trick of presenting us with a protagonist whom we take an instant dislike to, yet one we're forced to get behind as Asger initially seems the best hope for a positive resolution to this fraught scenario. The more Asger becomes invested however, the more we begin to question whether he's doing the right thing by intruding on the work of the authorities officially assigned to the case, and he makes some decisions that potentially escalate the situation. There are moments where you might find yourself shouting at the screen, warning Asger off making a call as his finger hovers over the dialpad. At the same time, it's impossible to imagine anyone taking a call of Iben's nature and being able to take a professional backseat.

All this would collapse without a strong enough actor in the central role, and as Asger, Cedergren (whom we'll no doubt see cropping up as generic villains in future Hollywood movies) offers a compelling portrayal of a man whose soul has been hollowed out by a job that has exposed him to humanity at its worst. Iben's plight offers him a shot at redemption, and in saving his distraught caller, he might just save what's left of himself.

The Guilty is in UK cinemas October 26th.


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