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Original title: Den skyldige

D: Gustav Möller / 85m

Cast: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Omar Shargawi, Johan Olsen, Jacob Lohmann, Katinka Evers-Jahnsen, Jeanette Lindbæk

Asger Holm (Cedergren) is a police officer working as a call handler for the Danish emergency response services. He’s doing this while he waits for the outcome of a court appearance that will determine if he remains a police officer. It’s his last shift before his court date, and with around half an hour to go he’s having to deal with the usual amount of time wasters and people who want an emergency response there and then. But one call brings Asger out of his self-imposed funk: a young woman called Iben (Dinnage) tells him she has been kidnapped and is in a vehicle, but she doesn’t know where she’s being taken. Asger knows roughly the area she’s in, and once he gets Iben to reveal the colour and kind of vehicle she’s in, he calls the appropriate police force to look for   her. But as Asger’s shift ends and he decides to stay on, he becomes more and more involved in finding Iben and reuniting her with her two children, who are still at home. But his efforts have unexpected consequences…

With all the action taking place wihin the confines of the Emergency East call centre, and for much of the movie within the further confines of an office where only Asger is situated, The Guilty relies heavily on both its plot, and Cedergren’s performance. Luckily, the plot is a gripping, edge-of-your-seat race against time scenario that sees Asger make a number of mistakes – some avoidable, some not – that both highlight and complicate the urgency of the situation, and which rely on the drip feed of information that some viewers will be able to piece together before Asger does. It’s a scenario that requires Asger to be a very good listener, but with his own issues weighing heavily on him, this proves difficult for him to achieve, and as he gets in deeper and deeper – even to the point of involving one of his police colleagues, Rashid (Shargawi) – his feelings of guilt over the incident that has brought him to the call centre begin to overwhelm him, and his efforts to do the right thing become more and more desperate. As Iben’s situation worsens, so too does Asger’s, and as he strives to save her, it becomes obvious that he’s trying to redeem himself at the same time.

This duality of purpose becomes more and more explicit as the movie progresses, and thanks to a sterling performance from Cedergren, Asger’s taciturn, dismissive demeanour gives way to a maelstrom of unexpected emotions that ultimately prove to be both the source of his undoing and his redemption. Asger isn’t the most sympathetic of characters, and Cedergren makes no attempt to soften him or make him more agreeable, but the narrative is still looking for that positive outcome, and if only Asger can swing it, then that’s okay. Möller and editor Carla Luff instill the movie with a sinewy, muscular rhythm that deflects from just how many times the camera placidly, but effectively observes Asger in close up, and the restrained camera work by DoP Jasper J. Spanning is suitably claustrophobic, making good use of the limited space Asger occupies and further highlighting the urgency of the situation. With good supporting performances from his voice cast, Möller teases out the truth in stages, and confounds audience expectations on a couple of occasions while playing to the gallery at others. It’s a compelling thriller, commendably staged and cleverly executed, and one that balances the demands of its main plot with that of Asger’s own situation with style and a surfeit of brooding self-confidence.

Rating: 8/10 – Denmark’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Academy Awards, The Guilty is a riveting, tightly constructed thriller that doesn’t short change the viewer, or betray its own internal logic in the final third as so many thrillers do; quietly devastating in places, its relatively short running time means not a moment is wasted, and there’s depth lurking beneath the simplicity of the main set up.