Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
Written by: Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Susse Wold, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Alexandra Rapaport
Have you ever been afraid of being accused of a crime you didn’t commit? Could your pure intentions and actions ever be misconstrued and turned into something lascivious? Have you thought about how you’d handle it? Would you be reactionary or reserved? These are the choices one man is forced to make when he’s accused of committing a horrific crime on a young child in director Thomas Vinterberg’s musical comedy intense and infuriating drama THE HUNT. Returning to the familiar thematic territory of family, community, and childhood naiveté, Vinterberg has crafted a provocative film that will divide audiences on the narrative – though not on lead Mads Mikkelsen’s staggeringly precise performance.
Lucas (Mikkelsen) is a recently divorced father who lives with his dog Fanny in a small suburb in Denmark. While struggling with custody of his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm), he teaches at the local daycare center, is an active member in the community, and is longtime friends with practically everyone in town. Life’s treated him fairly decently. That is, until young student Klara (the adorable Annika Wedderkopp) – the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) – falsely accuses Lucas of sexually abusing her. Stunned and in disbelief, school administrator Grethe (Susse Wold) tells Lucas to finish out the day and then take time off until this blows over. However, after the authorities are brought in, the whole town turns on Lucas, including his new girlfriend Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport). His only allies are his son and his other best friend Bruun (Lars Ranthe).
It’s easy to see why Mikkelsen won the best actor trophy at this year’s Cannes film festival. He gives an astounding performance filled with vulnerability and pathos. The broken hurt of betrayal is evident on his face. The ferocity he brings to the role is riveting and emotionally impacting. As far as direction and writing go, Vinterberg and screenwriter Tobias Lindholm make a few elegant comparisons between our hero and his impending journey; when Lucas goes deer hunting, the audience can sense he’ll soon be the prey. When he’s pulled into the administrator’s office, production design clues help tell the story, with the horizontal wood paneling on the wall behind him and the horizontal blinds behind Grethe. Unfortunately, that masterful technique is abandoned early on in the picture, and it just becomes somewhat of an average TV movie.
This stimulating film will serve to both enrage audiences and undermine their intelligence. There have been countless psychological studies done on this topic as well as many cases in the media where this exact hysteria has been instigated at other daycare services. There’s not much we don’t already have pre-concieved notions of when we step into the theater, and it subsequently affects how we judge the film. Are we really to believe that when the controversy is “settled” – after people kill his dog (a deal breaker in my book), throw a brick through his window, pelt him with canned goods, etc. – Lucas would be able to forgive and hang out with his former besties ever again?! Oh, hell no! And to add insult to injury, there’s never any consequences for those who persecuted Lucas. No just desserts nor lessons learned for the FRANKENSTEIN-like townsfolk who turned their backs on their longtime pal. Once a victim of these accusations, he’ll always be a target (as demonstrated with the film’s final sequence). Needless to say, there were quite a few walkouts during my screening of the film and even more people voicing their displeasure.
2 out of 5
THE HUNT plays AFI Fest on November 4 and 5. It opens in limited release on July 12.