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“The Guilty” is a nerve-wracking exercise in tension that also manages to reveal itself in layers, leaving assumptions dashed on the floor. One crime becomes another crime, right turns go wrong and a smothering sense of, yes, all-permeating guilt takes over everything.

It's a film where most actions — good, bad and misconstrued — take place in the audience's imagination. On screen there's only one man, really, and the voices communicating — or miscommunicating — with him over the telephone.

That one man is Asger Holm (the resolutely human Jakob Cedegren), a Danish police officer answering emergency calls alongside fellow officers in a soulless office. Early on it's established that this isn't exactly Holm's dream job — he's serving penance for some action gone wrong on the street. He's near the end of his shift and tired of talking to drunks who've fallen off their bicycles.

But then he takes a call from a woman who seems to have been kidnapped. Intrigued and alarmed he pulls parts of a story out of her — she's in a van, her captor is her ex-husband, she's worried about her daughter left home alone. When the call gets cut off, Holm sends out alarms, then calls the woman's house and talks to an obviously distressed young girl.

When official channels can't find the woman or van, Holm — breaking protocol and probably the law — calls his drunken partner and sets him on the case. Soon he's juggling calls from all over town as the story grows progressively grim.

And progressively more interesting. Director and co-writer Gustav Moller isn't just spinning a thriller here — although he certainly manages to do that. He's questioning motives, he's wondering how and if we ever know the truth, he's juxtaposing the obvious with the hidden and questioning every move made, no matter how well-intentioned.

The result is a gut punch of a film about fragile reality and the limits of perception. “The Guilty” is far more than a guilty pleasure.

Tom Long is longtime culture critic.

 

'The Guilty'

GRADE: B+

Rated R

Running time: 85 minutes

At the Detroit Film Threatre

 

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