This one and In A World (review upcoming) are the last two films I saw at MSPIFF. I have been intrigued by The Hunt for a while because I’ve been hearing great things about it and Mads Mikkelsen’s performance. Well, he certainly did NOT disappoint.
The Hunt a.k.a. Jagten (2012)
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.
I came to know Mads Mikkelsen through his role as a bleeding-eyed Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale but he’s not likely to be known only for that role in his distinguished career and that’s because he’s soooo much better than that.
He’s got an icy, almost ominous look to him but here he’s actually very convincing as a warm-hearted, meek Kindergarten teacher. The little kids adore Lucas in the small community he lives in, and though he’s been through a pretty tough divorce and missing his young son in a bitter custody battle, he doesn’t seem to let that affect his friendly demeanor.
The film opens with a bunch of his best mates jumping into a lake in a cool Autumn day. It’s a Danish film so it’s no surprise to see a big burly guy strip naked as he runs into a lake, which then Lucas has to rescue as he gets cramp as he hits the water. So Lucas is well-loved by his pals too, and it’s easy to see why. On the way to school, Lucas often walks past his best friend Theo’s house whose little girl happens to be one of his students. Everything seems sweet and cute as can be as they walk together to school, but soon it’s obvious that the cute blond girl becomes somewhat smitten with Lucas. It sounds quite normal at first, that is until something she said about him ends up escalating beyond anyone, least of all Lucas, would ever have imagined. There’s no such thing as an ‘innocent little lie’ and boy, this film truly shows us the really WORST case scenario of the townsfolk’s witch-hunt reaction.
At first I was wondering why the title is called The Hunt (Jagten in Danish), but as I’m watching it, it’s most appropriate. Lucas becomes the victim of being deemed guilty in the court of public opinion, his friends shun him and the whole community practically shuts him out that he can’t even shop for groceries. It’s amazing how fast and seemingly easy people could turn on someone, even one of their own, as even Lucas’ new girlfriend doubts him. He virtually has no way of defending himself and given the grave nature of what he’s accused of, I guess I can’t blame people for being resentful of who they think is the perpetrator. Director Thomas Vinterberg doesn’t pull any punches in creating a tense, unsettling atmosphere with minimalist style. The quiet, almost serene look of his film enhances the feeling of terror, it’s as if I feel like I too was being hunted as I was fully immersed in Lucas and his plight.
The film is not violent nor gory, which goes to show that an adept director could effectively gives us the chills without ‘indulging’ in blood and gore. Mikkelsen is absolutely superb as Lucas in one of the Oscar-worthy performances I saw this year. His character is transformed by this unfortunate event and I kept thinking he’d do something drastic as a result, but thankfully the film is not so predictable. Mikkelsen has this quiet grace about him but with this simmering intensity underneath, you just don’t know what he’s capable of and he could truly explode at any moment. There’s a memorable scene on a Christmas eve that I won’t soon forget. Lucas looked back a few times at one of the men sitting a few pews behind him and the way he stares with his watery eyes sent chills down my spine. At that point he’s a desperate man with nothing else to lose and that sense of sorrow and restrained anger… basically a man at the end of his rope. Mikkelsen was able to capture all of that complex emotion in this one scene.
The film’s supporting cast is quite good, especially Thomas Bo Larsen as Theo and Lasse Fogelstrøm in his debut film role as Lucas’ teenage son, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Mikkelsen. Props to Charlotte Bruus Christensen for her lush and evocative cinematography that is instrumental in creating the serene but eerie atmosphere. Vinterberg, Christensen and Mikkelsen have all deservedly won an award at Cannes for their respective work. It’s inevitable that Tinseltown would beckon the Danish auteur with his film’s success. I have no problem with that, just so long as he maintain his skillful film-making skills when he makes his Hollywood film.