Remember the 2014 movie Locke, featuring only Tom Hardy on screen, making many phone calls from his car while driving through nocturnal London? There is a similarly single-minded movie out now, called The Guilty (or Den skyldige as its original title), about a cop who has to staff a police emergency call center in Denmark. That is of course the perfect situation for yet another feature with one character on screen and all the others phoning in. To be fair, Asger Holm (played by Jakob Cedergren) has a few short face-to-face conversations with the other cops at the call center, but soon, he moves into another, empty room in order to tackle the problem he is confronted with.
And a tangled problem it is. There is an emergency call from a woman in the back of a white van who says she is being abducted. Asger sends the nearest patrol car, but they lose the van in the night. Asger calls back. No answer. He finds out the name and address of the woman and calls the landline. A child picks up, saying that her mom and dad are missing, and that something has happened to her brother in the next room. Asger can send another patrol car to that address, sure, but consider his situation: he only has second-hand information about what is happening. People might lie or misinterpret, but he is obliged to listen since he is the one whom they ask for help. He also has to make the right decision about what to do next, and fast. There are moments where you see Asger think and try to come to the right decision without being able to leave the room. I was in the same situation, not knowing what to do or say or whom to believe. Holm is a trained police officer, obliged to react, and I didn’t envy him his position. To expect him to make the right choice is sort of insane, and there is a moment where he hurls pieces of equipment through the room in frustration. I understood him.
Movies like this stand or fall with the main character. Jakob Cedergren looks like a cop here (he has played cops several times before); Asger has the right kind of distance to the job in the first few minutes of the movie, but you can see him trying to keep it together while he has to make snap decisions about other people’s fates. In a way, movies like The Guilty are like a game of chess: make a wrong move, and you will never be able to take it back. The movie is only 85 minutes long, but it feels longer because things evolve more or less in real time. It’s also paradoxical: it shows you only minimal action, and yet a lot of things happen, some visible, some internal. You could call it a moral action movie.