Mads Mikkelsen superb as a teacher in turmoil in Vinterberg’s The Hunt

by Mark Burger

With The Hunt, filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg offers a chilling and penetrating dissection of a community torn apart at the seams, by a simple (and untrue) accusation that has devastating consequences for all involved.

Mads Mikkelsen, the current smallscreen incarnation of Hannibal Lecter on NBC, plays Lucas, a well-liked schoolteacher in a tightknit Danish suburb. Still smarting over a recent divorce and ongoing custody struggle for his teenaged son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom), he at least has the companionship of his hunting buddies, whom he’s known his entire life, and a budding romance with Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), who works at the same kindergarten as he.

It is at that kindergarten where Marcus is accused of sexual misconduct by one of the students, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), who also happens to be the daughter of Lucas’ best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). In shattering succession, Lucas loses his job, his reputation, his friends and his standing in the community.

There’s a palpable, clammy sense of unease as circumstances close in on Lucas, and Mikkelsen does an exceptional job of conveying the character’s frustration and simmering rage. Whether innocent or guilty, the accusation alone is enough to potentially destroy him. Although the official investigation is repeatedly alluded to, Vinterberg keeps the film’s focus exclusively on Lucas and the community at large.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, the film (original title Jagten) is nevertheless conveyed in a dispassionate, almost voyeuristic style that further draws the viewer into the intimacy of its events. The screenplay (by Tobias Lindholm and Vinterberg) remains steadfastly true to the complexity of the story. There are no convenient contrivances or easy narrative exits, just a mounting emotional intensity that seems on the verge of erupting, particularly in the film’s latter stages.

Mikkelsen’s isn’t the only fine performance on display. Youngsters Fogelstrom and Wedderkopp (both in their screen debuts), Larsen, Rapaport, Anne Louise Hassing, Susse Wald (as the kindergarten principal) and Lars Ranthe (as a loyal friend who sticks by Lucas) comprise an acting ensemble that ranks as one of the year’s most impressive. Every character is believable, every actor is good.

(In Danish with English subtitles) The Hunt is scheduled to open Friday in Winston-Salem.