Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is loved by the kids and fellow teachers at his local kindergarten in a small Danish town, after the school he taught at was closed. Now, following his divorce, made especially painful when his wife moves away with their teenage son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom), Lucas' life is recovering, with a new girlfriend Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), and the reforging of his relationship with Marcus. His world comes crashing down, however, when little Karla (Annika Wedderkopp) suggests to the headmistress Grethe (Susse Wold) that he has exposed himself to her. It's a simple lie that spirals out of control and the small community suddenly finds itself in a collective state of hysteria. Long held friendships are tested as mistrust spreads.
Review by Louise Keller:
Context is everything in this potent and riveting story about innocence betrayed. His handsome, expressive face a mirror to his emotions, Mads Mikkelsen delivers yet another superlative performance as the kindergarten teacher ostracised from his community when assumed guilty of inappropriate behaviour. The focus of Thomas Vinterberg's film lies in a vivid and disturbing exploration of relationships based on perceptions, where distrust and presumption of guilt overtakes logic and the boundaries of civil behaviour. Bonds of lifelong mateship disperse as quickly as the autumn leaves that scatter from an unexpected gust of wind. Our journey is a disturbing one in which terrifyingly, the psychological undercurrent shapes the action.
In the opening scenes in a picturesque Danish community by a forest and lake, we are introduced to Lucas (Mikkelsen) - a man to whom everyone relates. It is the hunting season and Lucas accurately shoots his target, a magnificent deer, spied between the ochre trees of the forest. Lucas heroically dives into the freezing November water to help a mate with cramp and later escorts his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) to his home after one too many drinks with the boys. There is a promising new bond developing with his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm) and a new relationship with Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), the pretty girl from the kindergarten, has the potential to develop into a meaningful one.
The youngsters at the kindergarten where he works adore him. There are playful grapples in the playground, he is not averse to wiping a dirty bottom if required and is happy to walk Theo's little daughter Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) to school when Theo and wife Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing) are at loggerheads. Lucas' adorable dog Fanny is also an important part of Lucas' life. Wedderkopp is adorable, her angelic heart-shaped face and blonde features perfectly depicting the image of innocence. The all-important sequence of events in which Klara develops a crush on her teacher plays out with great subtlety, and we can understand all the nuances and every contributing factor to the exposition.
The speed with which Lucas is shunned from the community is shattering: thrown out of the local supermarket, beaten up, turned away from his best friend's house and his job lost. Even when Klara tells her mother that she made up the story, it is too late and the destructive power of the community's judgment is as deadly as a bullet. The film builds to a stunning crescendo, playing out in the candle-lit church on Christmas Eve with heartbreaking conviction. But there is more to come, in a chilling postscript that reinforces everything we have seen unfold on screen. This is one film that is well worth seeking out.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you think of the ancient witch hunts as the equivalent of political correctness gone feral, you'll quickly grasp the notion that 'thought is a virus'. This was the theory that propelled writer/director Thomas Vinterberg to write the screenplay (with Tobias Lindholm) of The Hunt. There is indeed a real deer hunt (two in fact) depicted in the film, but the title plays with the notion of hunting more as it relates to my first reference. Not witches, of course, but in this case a male teacher at a kindie.
Nuanced but robust, the screenplay is a masterclass in exposition, drama, character portraiture - and cinema. It is also a vivid warning to society that yes, 'thought is a virus' that can maim and even kill. The observation of human nature on show here is devastatingly accurate as the 5 year old's simple, hardly formulated words are seized upon - with all good meaning - by adults who can't imagine that a child would make up a lie like that.
With the speed of a deadly virus, the thought of Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) being a pedophile infects the entire community. To make this credible takes disciplined filmmaking and great writing, both of which are in evidence in The Hunt, as is a set of riveting performances. Mikkelsen won the Best Actor Award at Cannes 2012 for this extraordinary performance, a complex characterisation of a man whose decency is put to every imaginable test.
Annika Wedderkopp gives an astonishing performance as the blonde little Klara, and to the filmmakers' credit her behaviour is simply but effectively explained - to us, at any rate - in a playful scene between the kids and Lucas.
Susse Wold as Grethe the headmistress is outstanding, her role beautifully written; she is neither vilified nor absolved, and her responses are reflected throughout the community. Of course, Klara's parents are distraught, preferring to believe Klara who "has never lied". Her father Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) is - or was - Lucas' best friend - since childhood. He, too, is a memorable character, superbly portrayed.
The film tugs at our justice strings and pings our consciences as Lucas is hurtled into an abyss of hate, all based on a lie. That the lie comes out of the innocent mouth of a toddler is an irony that envelops the film in a crushing embrace.
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HUNT, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Bjarne Henriksen, Lasse Fogelstrom, Annika Wedderkopp, Susse Wold, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Alexandra Rapoport
PRODUCER: Thomas Vinterberg, Sisse Graum Jorgensen, Morten Kaufmann
DIRECTOR: Thomas Vinterberg
SCRIPT: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
EDITOR: Janus Billeskov Jansen, Anne Østerud
MUSIC: Nikolaj Egelund
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Torben Stig Nielsen
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 2, 2013