There’s a certain realization that hits you upon watching the Danish film, The Hunt (Jagten), aside from the fact that Mads Mikkelsen absolutely is the goods, and that’s that little blonde girls are the biggest threat to human civilization we have to face. Their words can inspire – or incite – such behavior as to astound. And when those words are incendiary toward someone, whether truthful or not, that behavior can be downright barbaric. Or at least, that’s the utterly believable reality presented by the film, in which a good man and kindergarten teacher, Lucas (Mikkelsen) is caught up in a surge of societal scorn emanating from the words of one little girl.
The unintentional but nonetheless damaging allegations from one of his students are that Lucas showed his penis to her…and worse. There’s a universal understanding about how a community is going to react to such damning accusations. Lucas is very nearly destroyed by the entire situation, which is based solely on the words of Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), a darling little girl in Lucas’ kindergarten class and the daughter of his best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). Lucas’ ostracizing first by a very disbelieving Theo and later the entire small town plays out like a bad joke that he can’t believe and they can’t forgive.
It becomes very apparent very quickly that if Klara is believable (and she is, even though the truth is known to us), that there is precious little hope for Lucas and his reputation, and even less are the recourses he has available to him to try to remedy the situation. It’s doubly hard for Lucas because the person on whom he would rely first, Theo, is his first and biggest betrayal. Lucas also has to deal with his ex-wife, who had been making seeing his son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom) difficult. One of the few sanctuaries Lucas finds is that Marcus never doubts him and stands up for him, even so far as to piss of a Dane about the size of Paul Bunyan
Mikkelsen, one of the very best Bond villains in the entire franchise, and now skeezing out American audiences as a younger Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is known for his cool and chilling characters. But he pulls a complete 180 here, imbuing Lucas with an immense likability, not only for his rapport with Theo, Klara, and Marcus, but also the dignity he maintains for the majority of the movie as his situation worsens. This is a man who has been wronged by circumstance more than anything else, and his handling of things goes so far as to be nearly too rationally dignified. You’re almost wanting Lucas to stand in the town square and proclaim his innocence. That’s why – in one key scene – when he resolves to get his groceries in the local market, despite a beating he just took from the butcher of all people, you get an immense feeling of satisfaction for him. Another climactic scene in a church on Christmas Eve between an outraged Lucas and Theo is intense and gripping. Mikkelsen won the Best Actor award at Cannes 2012 for this portrayal. That ain’t no small thing and you see why it was deserved by his turn in this film.
Other performances, particularly Fogelson, Larsen and Wedderkopp are all superb, and director Thomas Vinterburg (The Celebration) has given this film a very universal appeal. It’s not only easy seeing situation like this play out in an American small town, but were it not for the fact that everyone is speaking Danish, you’d think that that was the setting. There’s no one who comes through The Hunt unscathed, and it’s a powerful film with a disturbing message about how tenuous relationships and perception of reality can be when undone by something as unassuming as a confused little girl.
The Hunt will be released in theatres on July 12.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars