Gustav Möller´s low-key debut takes one man, a dark room and a phone - and crafts a cop thriller as riveting as any blockbuster
Godard said that all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun. Well, with his smart and mercilessly gripping abduction thriller, the Danish director Gustav Möller has pulled it off with a middle-aged man and a hands-free phone. Like the Tom Hardy movie Locke, this is a one-man show, claustrophobically confined to a single location - a drab office where deskbound cop Asger (Jakob Cedergren) is responding to 999 calls. Miraculously, Möller turns a handful of phone conversations into a nerve shredder.
Asger is dealing with the usual drunks and muggings when he picks the phone up to a kidnapped woman. He transfers the call to the police, but as the clock ticks he becomes frustrated by their slowness and takes matters in his own hands - staying on the line to the terrified woman, then making calls to her kidnapper and her six-year-old daughter, home alone. What makes this all so compelling is a knockout performance by Cedergren, who reminded me a little of a Danish Paddy Considine. The details of his face - a twitch, the slight throb of a vein on his forehead - are as riveting as the police chases we don´t see.
The film is a card-calling achievement for the first-time film-maker Möller, who pulls the strings with icy calculation. But there´s more to The Guilty than a race against the clock. Drop by drop, information is fed to us about the incident that left Asger confined to desk duty.On the phone, he also veers wildly from the what-to-say-to-in-a-kidnap-scenario instructions given out at police academy. Is Asger a good guy going the extra mile, or does he have a dangerous delusion of himself as a crusading cop? Or is it more complicated than that? What a flat-out brilliant film this is - it´s Denmark´s entry for the best foreign language Oscar. As with all these Scandi-noirs, the title sounds far more chilling in Danish: Den skyldige. It may start a trend for call centre thrillers.