Asger (Jakob Cedergren) is a frontline officer who has been relegated to a desk job after an incident in his backstory. When he receives a call from a woman claiming to be kidnapped, he leaps into action.
As the case grows more complicated, Asger uses all of his skills (including a few dubious ones) that cause the situation to escalate even further.
This is the kind of movie I would like to make.
There is something about a movie in confined space that gets my gears running - so many of my favourite movies (narrow margin, rear window, knife in the water, die hard) involve characters in crisis in literal and metamorphic squeeze.
As Asger’s peril increases, his surroundings become more constricted - he moves into a darkened room, he closes the curtains for privacy and at his lowest point smashes a desk lamp, leaving the room cast in red by the sole light source - the red light above his console.
With great use of (extremely) shallow focus and sound design, the movie always feels like it's on the move, even though it takes place in a nondescript office space. Because the action happens offscreen the movie feels like radio play (another genre I love), but it never lacks a sense of pace or tension.
The title becomes more important as the movie progresses, particularly when it comes to our protagonist.
So many action movies are based not around the hero’s redemption, but on validating their violent methods (everything from Dirty Harry on down owes something to this trope). Of course in those movies, the hero’s violence is juxtaposed with a villain whose actions and depravity demand violence to expel.
Asger feels like a deconstruction of movie cop heroes - usually, these characters are presented as outsiders who go outside the law in pursuit of a higher (though undefined) sense of justice. Even the way the character is introduced feels like a cliché - a street cop assigned to a desk, who finds himself in a situation that will validate his mind-set and tactics.
Asger is itching to get out and thinks he is in such a situation and goes above and beyond to save the woman - even getting his partner to break into a suspect's house. In The Guilty, such clear moral dichotomies do not exist.
The script is really good at sprinkling little details of his past and personality - there is a beat where he needs some info from a co-worker and apologises his past behaviour. Considering this is his last day that does not put Asger in the best light.
Police action heroes are generally defined as loners - both a part of the system, but willing to operate outside of it in order to right a wrong. In The Guilty, Asger's isolation feels more selfish and (potentially) destructive. He is also dependent on others in order to achieve his goals (such as his put-upon partner).
Ultimately, The Guilty is not a story about an individual exacting natural justice when the legal system falls short - it is about a man reckoning with his own failures, especially the failure of his personal code.
For Asger, the end defines the means - but in a brilliant reveal, he realises that he has misread the situation and made it even worse. In order to make it right, he has to honestly confront himself, and come to terms with how his actions got him to this place.
The Guilty is a terrific movie, and easily one of the best movies I have seen this year.
If you are interesting in donating to the families of the victims of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, here is a link to the official donations page.