The Guilty is a clever, thoroughly engrossing film from Denmark that marks the directorial debut of Swedish-born Gustav Möller, who also co-wrote the screenplay. This marks his first effort since graduating from film school, and he made it with a bare-bones crew consisting of fellow students. Only leading man Jakob Cedergren is an experienced professional.

Möller made sure the story was one he could fully realize, while providing himself with a major challenge: it all takes place inside one office, with a brief detour to an adjoining room. That office is the headquarters of emergency services—what we would call 911. Unlike here in the States, in Denmark the operation is manned by police. Our protagonist is there as a kind of punishment while an internal review case is pending. He hopes to be out on the street, where he feels at home, sometime  soon. This and other elements of his backstory are imparted to us piecemeal over the course of the picture.

Because this is only a temporary assignment, he isn’t as knowledgeable as his colleagues about how to handle emergency calls—and, more important, how to keep a professional distance. Alas, he can’t help himself after he receives a call from a woman who has apparently been abducted and is being driven somewhere against her will. Using the latest technology, he makes decisions and assumptions that reveal his inexperience in a series of twists that keep us guessing what is really happening right to the end.

The highly-charged film reminded me of a radio play, because so much of it takes place off-screen, its key events revealed to us through what we hear on the protagonist’s telephone headset. (To avoid the feeling of a radio show he had his supporting actors in a separate room, talking “live” to Cedergren and  adding verisimilitude to the drama.)

This import reminded me of Steven Knight’s Locke (2013), which features Tom Hardy talking on his cell phone while driving for nearly 90 minutes. It’s audacious and brilliant. The Guilty is in that class. Jakob Cedergren is completely convincing in the lead and carries the film without overblown histrionics. No wonder it won the Audience Award for world cinema at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The Guilty is the work of a real talent, an impassioned storyteller. I hope the release of this movie will lead to other opportunities for Gustav Möller. It will be a pleasure to watch his career take wing.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024