I’m a huge fan of Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Known as one of those familiar faces, Mikkelsen is an immensely talented actor who has shown a tremendous range. He’s tackled everything from period action pictures to emotional dramas; mythological fantasy to being a James Bond villain. He’s an undeniable presence in whatever he is in and his success, particularly in his native Denmark, is well deserved.
All of that should help explain my excitement for his film “The Hunt”. Original released overseas in 2012, “The Hunt” received a great response with most of the praise going to Mikkelsen’s performance. In fact, Mikkelsen would go on to win the Best Actor award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. With all of that in mind and with my expectations through the roof, naturally I was expecting something special and that’s exactly what writer-director Thomas Vinterberg gives us.
“The Hunt” is that rare film that aims to engage us emotionally while at the same time challenging those very emotions. It spurs self-inspection and analysis by casting spotlights on some ugly but very real elements of society. It causes us to question how we would feel or respond amid certain difficult situations. And it’s all woven within the fabric of a riveting narrative that is some of the best storytelling I’ve seen in a while. It’s a story that’s uncomfortable and may cause us to squirm, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need to do.
Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a divorced kindergarten teacher living in a close-knit Danish town. When Lucas angers a 5-year old student (who also happens to be the daughter of Lucas’ best friend) the young girl goes to the kindergarten supervisor and accuses Lucas of sexual misconduct. Of course the supervisor must act but she does so under the presumption of absolute guilt. Her constant mishandling of the situation sparks an inferno of canards and assumption which sweeps through the town fueling a vitriolic reaction from the community. There’s no hunt for truth. Lucas becomes the hunted and there is no fact or clue that will pull him out of some people’s crosshairs.
“The Hunt” creates a striking antithesis. On the surface we see a lovely tight-knit community during the holiday season. Festive family get-togethers and Christmas parties create an aura of small town charm. But underneath lies a conflict rooted in reality that sees otherwise decent people doing and saying horrible things. It would be easy to say we hate these people, but as heinous as their actions are, would we have acted or thought differently when faced with such an emotionally charged situation? That’s a question the movie tackles head-on.
The utterly brilliant screenplay is both smart and provocative yet even it needed a capable lead actor to make it truly effective. Mads Mikkelsen more than fulfills that need. It’s a very restrained performance but also one of the most powerful in recent memory. The layers of persecution brought by the town’s rush to judgement takes more and more of a toll on Lucas and Mikkelsen draws out every detail with absolute precision. It’s a master class in dramatic acting and easily one of the best performances of the year. There is some good supporting work as well but Mikkelsen is the true star of the picture.
“The Hunt” can be difficult to watch. It’s confrontational and unflinching. Yet its thought-provoking questions are soaked in realism and relevance. But this is also a film made with expert craftsmanship. The script is intelligent and penetrating. The pacing is perfect. The camerawork is vivid and fluid. Then there is the lead performance from Mikkelsen – a true highlight of the movie year. It took me a while to finally see “The Hunt” but it was well worth the wait. It’s not a film that will leave you with the warm and fuzzies, but it does cut to the heart and it is expert filmmaking through and through.