MRR Review: "The Hunt"

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A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son's custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie
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Movie Review: "The Hunt"

Rating: R (sexual content, including a graphic image, violence, and language)
Length: 115 minutes
Release Date: January 10, 2013
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
Genre: Drama

In a small Danish village where everyone knows everyone else's secrets, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a man in his forties whose life has changed drastically in the recent past. He and his wife divorce, and he becomes estranged from his son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom), who has moved far away with his mother. He is a teacher at a local school, a job that barely pays the bills but generally seems like the only steady, good thing in his life. Soon, the steady job actually becomes a nightmare for Lucas as he becomes the person being pursued in "The Hunt." 

Lucas slowly tries to get his life back together, reaching out to his son in an effort to patch up their relationship. He even manages to start seeing fellow teacher, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), even though he can't commit to her until he heals his broken heart. Things finally seem to be going well for Lucas, but the good times don't last for long. One day, he is approached by his student, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), who wishes to give him what initially seems like an innocuous gift. It turns out she has a crush on him, and tries to give him a kiss to go along with the gift. He rebuffs her advances, which causes her to run off in a huff to tell the principal, Grethe (Susse Wold). She lies and says that he exposed himself to her, which surprises and shocks Grethe.

Grethe questions Lucas and eventually has to call the police, which cements his fate as an accused pedophile. Since this is such a small town, word spreads quickly about the accusations, especially since Klara is the daughter of Lucas' best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). The entire town presumes that Lucas is guilty before he is given a fair chance to defend himself. They shun him from everything, even forcing him to go to another town to shop for groceries. Klara sees what she has done and knows that it is wrong, but is afraid of the consequences if she recants. Even if she does confess, the damage done to Lucas and his relationship with the locals may be irreparably broken.

Mikkelsen has long been a star in his native Denmark, but didn't break through to an international audience until "Casino Royale." Now he can be seen on television sets in the title role in the NBC drama "Hannibal," which has introduced him to more viewers. Those who have become fans through either Bond or "Hannibal" should definitely see "The Hunt." It shows the full range of what Mikkelsen is capable of as an actor as he delves deep into the psyche of a weary man trying to get his life back on track after one too many derailments. His portrayal is so great that he won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. 

Director Thomas Vinterberg, who also co-wrote the film, makes the town that Lucas lives in a part of the action. Indeed, the portrayal of the small-town mentality is abundant, with the locals believing that a boy turns into a man after he is old enough to hunt. It would have been easy for Vinterberg to show these people as ignorant and narrow-minded, but he tries hard to portray them instead as conflicted people who are just reacting as any concerned parent would. Even secondary characters are given personalities, which makes it harder to judge them for judging Lucas. It's almost as if Vinterberg is challenging the audience to judge the townspeople, knowing that they might react the same way if placed in the same situation.

It could be argued that "The Hunt" is meant to be a cautionary tale, but it really is more than that. It is a social commentary on the age we live in, where paranoia and rumors combine to bring chaos and misunderstanding. There is also a message of tolerance mixed in, though it is subtle and doesn't overwhelm the rest of the film. "The Hunt" is so many things, including a deep character study of just how much anguish the human heart can deal with before it breaks completely, with no hope of repair. It's touching, moving, frightening, and even infuriating. It deserves the respect it got on the film festival circuit, and it deserves a viewing from moviegoers as well.

Rating: 4 out of 5