Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Movie Review: The Guilty

The Guilty **** / *****
Directed by: Gustav Möller.
Written by: Gustav Möller & Emil Nygaard Albertsen.
Starring: Jakob Cedergren (Asger Holm), Jessica Dinnage (Iben), Omar Shargawi (Rashid), Johan Olsen (Michael), Jacob Lohmann (Bo), Katinka Evers-Jahnsen (Mathilde).
In The Guilty, we spend the entire movie in an enclosed space, mainly looking at the fact of one actor talking on the phone, and yet the film is one of the intense thrillers of the year. It is a simple film in many ways – and it makes sense that it is director Gustav Moller’s debut film – it could not have cost all that much money to make. But Moller knows how to build tension, and how to misdirect the audience in subtle ways, in order to pull the rug out from under them later – but to do so in a way that doesn’t feel like a cheat. It represents one of the most promising debut films of the year – and one of the best thrillers.
The entire film takes place in an Emergency call center in Denmark. Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is a cop, who normally doesn’t work in the call center, but we learn early on he has been assigned there because of some sort of incident – there will be a hearing the next day, and then he’ll be back on the streets. He gets a strange call from a woman who says that she has been kidnapped, and is being driven in a white van – and while he gets her name, he doesn’t get a lot of other information – she is pretending to talk to her 6-year-old daughter at home when she’s on the line with him. Instead of doing what is really his job – taking down the information, and passing it along to the cops on the street to figure out, he keeps on digging, finding out more and more information – and soon, he is toggling back and forth on phone calls to the woman, her daughter, her kidnapper, his partner and various police dispatchers in the areas the van is travelling. Everything he does, he does with the best of intentions – which is perhaps why everything goes so horribly wrong.
The film presents a directing challenge for Moller – who has to figure out a way to make a film that takes place entirely over phone calls in one room cinematic. The earlier scenes – when Asger is just trying to get through the shift, and is doing everything by the book – take place in a large, brightly lit room – where there are multiple people talking, and interacting. Sensing, not incorrectly, that he’s about to go further than he should, later in the film Asger will move himself into a darker room, where it’s just him, his phone and the computer screen. The effect is the more the film moves along, the more intently it is focused on Asger himself. When he moves, he’s off in his own world – forgotten by everyone else in the call center, as this is over a shift change.
Moller makes a lot of smart decisions throughout The Guilty – perhaps the biggest one being the runtime is not quite 90 minutes – any longer, and I think this setup starts to wear thin. He twists the story enough to keep you on your toes, but not nearly enough to make everything seem implausible. With Asger himself, there is something a little darker with him right from the start – but it’s a darkness that Cedergren finds a way to portray, while also making it clear that he doesn’t seem aware of it. He is a character who is morally lost at the beginning of the film – and subconsciously, could be trying to atone for that in his actions. By the end, the swagger and confidence has been drained from him.
The Guilty is a reminder that sometimes the simplest of setups can yield the best results. This isn’t an overly ambitious movie – it touches on some issues, but mainly exists as a straight ahead thriller, with a character study layered in as well – but it’s mainly focused on tightening the screws, and then lowering the boom. And it’s almost impossibly intense. A great debut film, from a very promising filmmaker – one who knows precisely what they are doing, right from the start.

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