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Short Take: The Guilty

(Gustav Möller, Denmark, Magnolia Pictures, Opening October 19)

Gustav Möller’s The Guilty functions as a gripping monodrama for one character: Asger Holm, a policeman temporarily demoted to 911-type dispatch duties for an undisclosed reason. On the phone Asger (Jakob Cedergren) displays a curious strain of acerbic humor that spills over into judgmental meanness: when a caller potentially overdosing on drugs pleads for help, Asger informs the man it was his own fault for getting into the situation in the first place—and hangs up.

Asger’s morality is messy, his benevolence selective. The only caller who intrigues him at all is a frightened young woman whose timid voice breaks on the other end of the line; she’s been kidnapped by her ex, and when the police response isn’t to Asger’s liking, he takes matters into his own hands from afar. A full 99 percent of the film features Cedergren acting and reacting to the voices in his character’s headset, and yet his performance turns this spare concept into a taut thriller with a few inspired twists. Simply watching Asger trying to sort through clues provides ample entertainment, even if we never leave a low-lit room that contains only a few computer monitors on some desks.

Möller delivers a compelling narrative by artfully concealing bald truths until the very last possible second. But The Guilty subverts expectations by complicating the crime drama convention that the tough-talking guy who breaks through the bureaucracy to get the job done is always the hero.

April Wolfe is a writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles. She hosts the Switchblade Sisters podcast on the Maximum Fun network.