Film Review: ‘The Guilty’ Dispatches a Nerve-racking Thriller

In our troubled times, it often seems like we are in constant need of a hero to swoop in and save us. With the media frequently reminding us of mass shootings, societal inequalities and other forms of injustice, it’s no wonder we love heroic narratives in our films. But while we love the fantasy of perfect, God-like heroes, in reality our heroes are flawed individuals themselves. Such is the case with the protagonist in “The Guilty,” the debut feature from director Gustav Moller. This nerve-racking thriller explores the definition of “hero” through the perspective of a man with painfully recognizable imperfections.

Set entirely within the confines of a police station, “The Guilty” depicts one extraordinary day in the life of a man named Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren). A police officer with experience in the field, he is no stranger to challenging situations. Due to a moment of indiscretion, however, Asger has now been relegated to the decidedly less exciting desk job of emergency dispatcher. But during one fateful call, he is tasked with the case of a lifetime when a kidnapped woman desperately needs his help. As her situation becomes increasingly dire, Asger must go beyond the call of duty, armed with only his communication skills and his resolute determination.

Before Moller ratchets up the tension with the pivotal phone call, he effectively sets the mood of a normal day at this police office. The intermittent emergencies are largely minor accidents which rarely raise the pulse, allowing Asger to have a drink at the water cooler and doze off at his desk. The atmosphere is a far cry from the frantic energy one might imagine of such an environment, and Moller impressively commits to this sense of calm before a storm.

Equally measured is Jakob Cedergen in the lead role. His Asger is established as a model of composure – a fascinating counterpoint to his prior offence – even as the film dynamically shifts between intense conversations and agonizing moments of waiting. And it’s in these quiet scenes where the film truly twists the knife, allowing the audience to contemplate new plot developments and paint a mental image of the unseen circumstances of the crime.

The result is a tremendously involving film which will keep you guessing all the way up to its shattering conclusion. With its smartly manipulative screenplay, intimate closeup cinematography and Moller’s assured direction, “The Guilty” is as probing as any courtroom drama. And ultimately, its final guilty verdict becomes as complicated as life itself. It leaves us pondering an essential question – who among us is completely innocent?

“The Guilty” opens in select theaters October 19.

GRADE: (★★★)