The Guilty

THE GUILTY (Den Skyldige). Starring: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, and Johan Olsen. Also, Omar Shargawi. Directed by Gustav Möller. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). 88 min.

This subtitled, Danish thriller was selected by Denmark as its entry in the category of Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Academy Awards. It tells the story of a former police officer who is under investigation and who begins a race against time, when he answers an emergency call from a woman who has been kidnapped. His actions break with standard police procedures.

 Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) works as an alarm dispatch officer in Copenhagen, Denmark. He has a conflicted and troubled past and is awaiting the outcome of a disciplinary hearing on whether, as a Police Officer, he killed a man in self-defence. While awaiting judgement, he has been demoted from active service to a desk job. He expects that his position as a contact officer will not be too demanding, and this is his last night of phone duty. While on duty, he answers a panic call from a kidnapped woman, named Iben (Jessica Dinnage), who claims she has been abducted by her ex-husband (Johan Olsen), who is violent. She is audibly distressed.

 When Iben’s call is suddenly disconnected, Asger sets in train procedures to save the endangered woman. As events proceed, he comes to realise the crime he is investigating is very different from what he thought originally, and he has vastly underestimated its complexity.

 The entire plot of the movie is caught on audio-track, and told through phone calls to those Asger contacts or talks to. The setting for the film is restricted to the main office and one smaller room in Copenhagen’s emergency contact centre. Asger is compelled to use the eyes and ears of others as he converses with them over the phone to help save the abducted woman.

 Two main themes occupy the movie. The first is the nature of the criminal abduction, and the second is the character of a troubled Police Officer. We learn about each, as the movie develops, and the film pursues both issues simultaneously.

 The film asks the viewer to unravel the mystery of what is occurring in real time. It unwinds in a single setting over a relatively short period of time, which is the duration of the movie. Within those tight constraints the film is incredibly suspenseful. Nerve-tingling suspense is built up through a telephone receiver which reveals the vulnerable mental state of the kidnapped woman, as well as raising questions about who is actually to blame. The fact that everything occurs in one place accentuates the vividness of the claustrophobic feel which the film attempts successfully to establish. The film further suggests that Asger’s behaviour opens up the way forward for him in the future, and points to possibilities of redemption for what he has done in the past.

 This is a highly intelligent and well-crafted thriller, that keeps the viewer on the edge of the cinema seat. Asger sets out to solve a crime, with the help only of a telephone switchboard, and while doing that he does battle with the negative experiences of his past. The demands of this complex situation require very good acting, and Jacob Cedergren rises superbly to the challenge. He is right at the centre of the film. Cedergren anchors the entire film through moody, intelligent acting, and the plot twists and turns under the tight control of the movie’s Director, Gustav Möller, who uses sound (as well as the absence of it) brilliantly.

 This is a claustrophobic thriller that maintains an incredible level of tension throughout, as the events it depicts proceed in real time. Jacob Cedergren’s acting performance is extraordinary. The viewer unravels the mystery in perfect harmony with the film, and the crime is solved in “noir” fashion with a startling plot-twist.

 Who is “The Guilty” one in this movie?” Only a “spoiler alert” can answer that, but when we learn what the audio narrative of the movie finally reveals, the answer to that question is gripping.

 Peter W Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Rialto Distribution

Released February 28th., 2019


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