The Hunt Review
by Daniel Rester
The Hunt, a new Danish drama film directed by Thomas Vinterberg, is one of those films that sneaks up on you and hits you in the gut. It’s a surefooted example of powerful, passionate filmmaking that favors story, character development, and asking tough questions over any camera showiness or Hollywood-like melodrama.
The film stars the always-reliable Mads Mikkelsen, probably best known to American audiences as the antagonist in the Bond film Casino Royale (2006). With his peering eyes, sharp looks, and a certain icy quality that he can muster up for characters, the actor is a prime choice for playing villainous roles. But the actor is better than to just be type-cast. In The Hunt, in fact, he plays an everyday man whose life spins out of control, and he pulls it off perfectly.
Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a middle-aged man working at a kindergarten in a close-knit community. He used to work at a secondary school before it was shut down, but now he is just trying to make ends meet. Lucas is also trying to spend more time with his son, who now lives with his mother since Lucas and her got divorced. But the man keeps his head up, and even starts dating a fellow employee named Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport).
Lucas’ life takes a turn for the worse when Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), a child at the kindergarten and the daughter of Lucas’ best friend, claims that Lucas showed her his penis. Soon the accusation gets out of control, with many community members denouncing Lucas as a monster.
The Hunt isn’t a “did he or didn’t he?” type of film. Vinterberg isn’t interested in the mystery behind whether a man is a pedophile or not, as the director makes it very clear from the beginning that Lucas did not commit such a terrible act. Instead, Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm aim higher. They are more curious about the wildfire that a small lie can spark, the mob mentality in going against presumed-evil men and the moral breakage it can cause, and the tests of family and friendship in the face of a horrible situation. With all of this, the script avoids moments that could have felt either contrived or overdramatic, and it remains intelligent and focused throughout – right up to the very end, which adds a nice touch of ambiguity.
While balancing the themes of the script, Vinterberg also does a fine job at keeping everything steady visually and letting the actors hit the right notes. Thomas Bo Larsen, as Klara’s father, Theo, has dramatic juice to spare, while Rapaport adds touches of sweetness that go a long way. Everyone is really fine, but this is truly Mikkelsen’s show in the end.
Mikkelsen gives the kind of rare performance that leaves you thinking about it weeks after seeing it. The actor gives years of tiredness and pain to Lucas with single glances at times, but he also provides plenty of heart and friendliness for the character. Mikkelsen is the kind of actor who can provide nuances perfectly in quiet moments but also be as fierce as a beast in a powerhouse argument (such as one that takes place in a church).
Even as The Hunt makes a couple of conventional (and a tad disappointing) moves towards its finish, it remains riveting. It’s a drama that gets your heart pounding and your brain thinking, really questioning how people react in certain crazy and unexpected situations. Mikkelsen’s towering performance alone makes it a must-see.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A).