FILM REVIEW: The Hunt
If you have art film loving friends you may have heard the phrase Mads come up in conversation with increasing frequency. You may have wondered what this is. Some strange cinematic syndrome brought about by too many Adam Sandler films? But Mads isn't a what, but a who: Mads Mikkelsen, an actor who's gone from being the talk of Denmark to a primetime TV star.
With his angular face, heavy lidded eyes and jutting cheekbones, he doesn't have the typical features of a leading man. But that distinctness, the narrow gaze of something like a snow-blind Inuit hunter, has helped Mads play everything from a twisted psychiatrist (Hannibal) to a Viking trapped on an endless quest. He was also the scared villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale.
Often, there was a strong physical element to these roles, but in his new movie The Hunt, Mikkelsen plays a character fighting a foe he can't touch but that hangs heavy in the air around him.
Lucas is one of a tight group of kindergarten teachers in a small Danish town. He begins the days allowing himself to be ambushed by a group of rowdy six-year-old kids, bringing a welcome paternal touch to a mainly maternal job.
In particular, Lucas spends a lot of time with Klara. She's a shy little beauty of a girl, her blond hair framing her pensive features. Since Klara's parents don't get along, Lucas finds himself walking his best friend's daughter to school. But when Lucas spurns a token of Klara's affection, it sets in motion a chain of events that puts the school teacher at the centre of a witch hunt.
Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) assembles the circumstances that ensure Lucas with precision and care. We watch with a growing sense of dread as every day innocent moments become ingredients in a smothering presumption of guilt.
Once accused, The Hunt switches gears with Mads burrowing deeply inside himself. More often than not, it's a kind of mute horror, a wordless rage expressed through Mads's eyes red with indignation. It's a credit to the simple staging of the story that as Lucas is accused, it's impossible not to have some inkling of doubt slip into our minds. An example of how when faced with the suggestion of a crime this disturbing, logic shrinks in the face of fear.
The Hunt is also aided by the unvarnished way Vinterberg shows the story and the setting, a quiet village where word travels fast.
The small town also happen to be a treasure trove of great Danish actors. Annika Wedderkopp as the daycare teacher who sags visibly under the weight of Klara's admission. Lasse Fogelstrøm as Lucas's young son, eager to defend his father. In particular, Thomas Bo Larsen stands out as Theo, the best friend of Lucas. Together they sang songs, hunted and feasted, but now they sit on separate sides of the story with a sea of suspicion between them. Larsen is as distinctive an actor as Mads, someone with a deep rumble of a voice, like God clearing his throat.
While the final act of The Hunt may strike some as anticlimactic, it's a harrowing reminder our tenuous hold on the truth.
RATING: 4 out of 5
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