Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Mads Mikkelsen is best known for roles that call attention to the brutalist architecture of his face: a Bond villain who weeps blood in Casino Royale, the mute punisher One-Eye in the 11th-century-set Valhalla Rising, anything that puts him in period bifocals. Here he plays a kindergarten teacher who can’t catch a break. Recently divorced, Lucas is also fighting for custody of his son, passing the sleepy winter months alone on the edge of town. His hunting-lodge buddies regard him with some concern: when Lucas assures his hangdog best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), that everything’s fine, Theo says he can tell Lucas isn’t telling the truth by his expression. Cowriter-director Vinterberg (and cowriter Tobias Lindholm, whose tense A Hijacking just rolled into stateside theaters) make sure that the audience as well keeps a close eye on the protagonist’s features, touching off an impressively thorough—if predictably downward-spiral unflattering—behavioral study of a community’s rush to judgment.
Fifteen years ago, Vinterberg made a splash with the first Dogme 95 film, The Celebration, in which a sit-down dinner party is unhinged by child-abuse allegations delivered in a toast. The Hunt, which unlike the earlier film has a surface that’s troublingly serene, comes to concern similar accusations, but since we stick close to Lucas’s point of view, there’s no suspense over whether they’re true: Theo’s spacey daughter Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) lets loose a lie about her teacher exposing himself to her, and then the entire town turns its back on Lucas as authorities manage to coax molestation “confessions” from other kindergartners.
Several of the film’s core scenes consist of escalating taking-a-stand physical altercations, but Vinterberg also sustains his focus on subtler body language, keeping the witch-hunt scenario grounded: we see Lucas tentatively loosen up when he’s alone with his son, eventually one of the blacklisted teacher’s only remaining allies; Klara punctuates her answers with nervous sniffles when interviewed by a counselor. But everyone in the room just seems to be digging for confirmation of what she’s alleged, and the rest of the town proves just as quick to believe the worst about one of their own. Evidently, it takes a village to ruin a stand-up guy.
Opens July 12