In the glory days of radio, “Sorry, Wrong Number” kept listeners on the edge of their seats simply by inviting them to listen in on an increasingly tense series of telephone calls. That is the basic premise behind this lean Danish thriller, Gustav Möller’s “The Guilty,” which opens Oct. 19.
Smart writing and a ferocious, nearly single-handed lead performance make the formula crackle and pop, just like it did in the old-school wireless era.
It might be a good idea for first responders to have a better idea of each other’s jobs, but Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is convinced he was assigned to the Danish equivalent of a 911 call center as punishment, because it definitely was. However, if he and his partner Rashid (Omar Shargawi) can keep their stories straight at tomorrow’s disciplinary hearing, he should be returning to regular cop duties.
Everything changes when Iben (Jessica Dinnage) calls.
Holm quickly deduces the woman is pretending to talk to her young daughter Mathilde (Katinka Evers-Jahnsen) rather than emergency services, because she was abducted by her resentful ex-husband Michael (Johan Olsen). He manages to glean details, such as the color and make of Michael’s white van, but the general location somewhere along the North Zealand expressway is not enough for the uniformed cops to track them down.
However, a call from the terrified Mathilde will motivate Holm to work the phones and internet, even pressing Rashid into unofficial duty, in hopes of anticipating Michael’s next moves.
Although they were different genres, “The Guilty” bears strong comparison with “Locke,” Steven Knight’s terrific man-on-car-phone dark-night-of-the-soul. That definitely means Cedergren can hang with Tom Hardy, and the screenwriting of Möller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen is on par with that of Knight. This is high praise indeed, but it is warranted.
Cedergren is known to discerning American viewers thanks to “Terribly Happy” and “Those Who Kill,” but his tour de force work in “The Guilty” should take him to a new level. It is a slow-burning turn that eventually but completely believably explodes, like a crackpot disaster. Actually, the cast on the phone are not as strong as Andrew Scott and Olivia Colman in “Locke,” but Cedergren carries them along, nonetheless.
“The Guilty” is particularly effective because it leads us to share each of Holm’s inaccurate or incomplete assumptions. As a result, when night closes in on him, we feel like we are right there too. Altogether, it is a lethally effective procedural thriller. Very highly recommended.
Director: Gustav Möller
Starring: Jakob Cedergren, Omar Shargawi, Jessica Dinnage, Katinka Evers-Jahnsen, Johan Olsen
Running Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 19
4 Stars out of 5
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, visit JBSpins.blogspot.com