A man sitting at work taking phone calls doesn't exactly sound like a concept that could carry a feature film, much less one with only one on screen actor, but Danish thriller 'The Guilty' is not just any film. The one-room concept has been many a time before, as well as similar plots (see Halle Berry's 'The Call'), but not in recent memory has it been executed in such an intense and nail-biting way.
'The Guilty' is Swedish director Gustav Möller's first feature film, but from the expert control of tone and shot composition, one would be forgiven for mistaking his career as a long and successful one. From the opening frame, it's apparent that the audience, whether they're comfortable with it or not, are going to get very up close and personal with protagonist Asger (Jakob Cedergren, 'Submarino'). The fact that reading subtitles does not at all detract from the tension is a testament to just how well this film is made.
Asger is a police officer who has been taken out of the field and currently on duty in the emergency call room, for reasons which become apparent throughout the film's run time. On an uneventful night of calls from drunks and men being robbed by prostitutes, one call sticks. A woman named Iben (the voice of Jessica Dinnage, TV's 'The Rain') has been abducted and can only answer Asger with limited words and phrases to not tip off her kidnapper. Under stress to both save Iben before it's too late, and the pressure of his looming court date investigating his actions at work, we see Asger reach almost breaking point, powerless and unable to change either situation outside of the four walls of the call room.
As impressive as Cedergren's performance is, it would be remiss to ignore the amazing work of Dinnage and Katinka Evers-Jahnsen, who plays her five-year-old daughter Mathilde. Both are at the heart of two of the film's most intense moments (it's also incredible how, even though the action happens entirely offscreen, it still manages to twist the stomach as it leaves the horrors to the imagination.
'The Guilty' will be considered an essential piece of Danish cinema for years to come.
Many similarities can be drawn between 'The Guilty' and Tom Hardy vehicle 'Locke': both only feature one actor on screen, both use phone calls as the driving force of the plot, and both take place in a confined place rendering their male leads powerless. Where 'The Guilty' towers over 'Locke', however, is the lack of protagonist self-monologuing; rather than have Asger speak to himself as Hardy does (both a confrontation of himself and the ghost of his father), everything we know and need to know about Asger reveals itself in the conversations he has on the phone. It feels much more organic and doesn't cheat the boundaries of the film's setting to teach us more about the character.
Despite the very brief runtime of 85 minutes, the pacing is absolutely perfect. No rushing or dragging here; the story unfolds in real time, and it's both believable and engaging. For those not well-versed or experienced with foreign film, this dialogue-heavy film may feel taxing at times with the amount of subtitle reading there is (an English remake Starring Jake Gyllenhaal is already in the works); however, seeing this original should be a priority. 'The Guilty' has been collecting accolades and praise in equal measure since its premiere at Sundance, and rightfully so. This will be considered an essential piece of Danish cinema for years to come.