Danish director Gustav Möller’s first feature film is an expertly crafted thriller with a simple but effective premise. Jakob Cedergren plays Asger, a deskbound Copenhagen cop answering emergency calls. What appears to be a fairly ordinary shift becomes far more complicated when he answers a call from a woman claiming to be kidnapped.
The film is told in real-time, set entirely in one location with primarily one central performer, but is able to evoke a more suspenseful atmosphere than the majority of Hollywood pictures of this type. The audience’s inability to see what’s happening on the other end of the line is used to add to the central mystery of the narrative. We are put in the protagonist’s place, only finding out information as he does, and it’s a tool that’s been used masterfully.
As Asger breaks rules in an effort to save this woman, we learn a lot more about the man himself and precisely why he has found himself in this position. As we see the way he works, doubt enters our minds about his practices. His own backstory is revealed to us gradually throughout the picture, unfolding as a secondary mystery, only when necessary to the plot itself. It’s a film that is exceptionally well-paced and controlled, while also being terrifically acted.
The truth is that films such as these really live or die on their central performance, irrespective of their other merits. Cedergren’s performance is flawless. His character feels human, and nothing about his interpretation is over-dramatic, with Asger’s emotional unpredictability unfolding at a natural and plausible pace. He’s genuinely impressive, and an absolute joy to watch.
For such a minimal production, the film is also superbly directed. It lacks an unnecessarily emotive score, putting us right there in the moment with Asger, and Möller’s tactical use of close-ups and excellent sound design create an unparalleled atmosphere that most other thrillers should be striving to reach.
The story is wonderfully unpredictable, catching you off guard even in the moments at which you’re expecting it, going in a direction few would have seen coming. At the heart of all this is a simple character study, following a man with several question marks over his head. Is Asger a hero, or does he simply see himself as one at the expense of the wellbeing of those around him?
‘The Guilty’ is, quite frankly, a terrific piece of suspense cinema. This isn’t simply a well-told thriller. It’s an exquisitely directed picture made by a filmmaker with an eye for creating an atmosphere and building tension, in spite of the minimalistic setting. As far as debut features go, it’s hard not to be impressed by Möller’s achievement. The film is well-scripted and paced, immersive, anchored by a world-class performance from Cedergren and a wonderful use of sound. Möller has used everything at his disposal to create a film that could be used as the benchmark for contained thrillers.
Who needs car chases?
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