This is a pay phone with grafitti and ripped poster at night. This represents the central action scene in "The Guilty".
Myke Simon

The Guilty is a light thriller with a lukewarm plot that doesn’t entirely grab the attention of viewers

The work of a police dispatcher is difficult. It’s hard to separate yourself from an intense emergency situation when you’ve already inserted yourself into the story of a person you are trying to save. In “The Guilty” that’s what Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) realized in his new job as a dispatcher when he picked up the phone to attend to a kidnapped woman who said she needed help getting away.

Asger, a rogue police officer, who was presumably on suspension pending a court hearing about the death of a man while he was on duty, was made anew in his new position. He’s not a likeable person. In fact, he’s entitled, rude, and condescending to his new dispatch colleagues, but he’s supposedly a good man who made a mistake. That’s what he came to realize with the help of Iben (Jessica Dinnage) the mentally disturbed victim of a kidnapping, who sought out his help to become clear-headed and to escape after she reported that her ex husband Michael (Johan Olsen) had grabbed her from her home and forced her into his van. The situation she describes to Asger is unbelievable. Her kids were left alone in her home after her ex husband, a convicted felon who has recently been released, forcefully grabbed her and started driving away from her home. She’s frantic and scared, but quick-witted enough to pretend that she’s called her daughter, so that she can call police for help. She believes that he’ll kill her. Time is running out.

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When Asger realizes the how dire the situation is, he feels like he is the only one taking the situation seriously. He calls his former police colleagues to help only to hit a dead-end when he suggests overstepping their duties to scrap together as much information as they can gather on Michael. So, his former partner Rishad (Omar Shargawi) is the only one willing to help, like he’s always done. Of course, we find out later, that Asger didn’t have all the information; he’d acted too rashly and in the process, accidentally revealed the truth about his murder investigation.

At heart, “The Guilty” is a light thriller with a lukewarm plot that doesn’t entirely grab the attention of viewers. The beginning of the film is slightly exciting because neither Asger or the audience is truly aware of the situation that is unfolding. We can only depend on what Iden says, which is difficult because she’s an unreliable witness. Still, because of Cedergren’s skilled ability to communicate distress, the story is able to inspire commitment for a little while until the pacing, and the monotony of only seeing Asger and his office environment begins to overwhelm the film. More, the plot wanes quite early.

To be fair, it’s difficult to create an entire movie that is set in one place, in this case, an office room, and with one primary character speaking throughout. For a film to spark enthusiasm and hold it with minimal stimulus, it requires a perfect balance of having a really exciting plot, amazing background, a strong emotional connection, and most importantly, a sense of uncertainty to be maintained throughout the film. Think of a movie like Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, which does it so masterfully as viewers watch as a woman fights for separation from her husband in a court room setting. The film focused mainly on Viviane, the main character in the story, and yet it is a very dramatic and memorable film. In this case however, “The Guilty” is unable to attain this harmony. As a result, it causes a struggle for viewers in retaining interest in the story as parts of the plot dwindle in animation.

The fact that Asger is stoic, largely chaotic, without really expressing any other form of vulnerability, also creates a distance between him and the viewer until the very end. Had Asger been more likeable or had there been more time to see the development of more dramatic scenes, more visually intense moments, it would have added to the viewing experience. Instead, the film initially stirs an appeal that it can’t sustain. In fact, about thirty minutes into the film, the intense impact from early on is diminished. Still, to it’s credit, it’s unpredictable, which is a win. But it simply doesn’t shift from its flat story development from the moment when Asger comes to learn what is actually happening, to the end.

And yet, the story does provide insight into the difficult perspective of emergency dispatchers and perhaps, the perspective of an officer who has come to realize that they had made a misguided decision that would forever permeate their life. At its root, “The Guilty” is really a story about redemption. It’s message is that you can be a good person and make mistakes and that if you are determined and decisive enough, at the very least, you can take steps to return back to a better version of yourself.

The film is an easy watch, not especially thrilling or boring either. It’s just passable. It’s an introductory film for people looking to explore movies within the thriller and mystery genre for the first time. Just don’t expect a gem and you won’t be disappointed.

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