The Guilty is Gustav Möller’s 85 minute film of passive intensity. Written and directed by Möller and in combination with Jasper J. Spanning’s up close and personal cinematography, it is everything that you would expect from a chamber piece.
Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is a police officer who has been put on call centre duty whilst he has an unresolved court case. For what? We don’t know yet. For this simple reason, he is curt, surly and at times unhelpful to callers and acting superior towards the people who have chosen to work in this role in the police force.
His attitude changes throughout the film as a covert call for help from a woman is, as far as Asger knows, being abducted. Asger’s methods for helping and his initial calm demeanour are well received but his focus is intense and to the detriment of all others. So he is to be commended and reviled at the same time; his attitude and behaviour have done nothing to endear him as yet. Some sharp quips and put downs landed particularly well in my screening, callers not entirely needing of the police or ambulance are given very short shrift. Asger is driven in his desire to help people but that leads to him getting into trouble at times. He is a bit impulsive but, deep down, he is a good-hearted individual.
As the abduction case builds so does the tension. But it is the waiting between calls that has the most impact. Awaiting more information or awaiting the result of an action that Asger has given is incredibly suspenseful. Asger’s role, you come to realise, isn’t all that active. There are times when there is nothing he can do to help or move the situation on and you really feel it. His hands are tied and he feels utterly helpless and that is when he begins to think about ways to get around this.
The more we see of Asger, the more we realise that, basically, he is an arse. He’s a rule breaker or rule bender, self-possessed and self-serving enough to think that the rules do not entirely apply to him and his attitude and superiority, particularly with regards to others in this arena, rubs people up the wrong way at times.
There’s frustration in Asger as he remains impotent for large parts of the film, it showing all across his face and in his pacing and anxiety. Cedergren’s performance needs to be commended as he has to do a lot of acting close up with no support other than a bluetooth earpiece and is wonderfully supplemented and punctuated by the odd physical outburst. Even in this small timeframe there is still a good amount of character development for Asger but it ended up feeling a bit forced and would have worked just as well without including this redemptive arc.
The Guilty plays out moment by moment and revelation by revelation, swinging from hope to despair. Seismic changes in the viewer’s perspective shakes the ground that you have built everything on and, coupled with the building tension, is a truly fantastic construct. But for all the intensity of the moments on the call and the seriousness of the situation it is the quieter moments of silent waiting that really elevate the performance and the film as a whole.