Hunt, The (2013)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 12/12/12 19:58:24

"A calmly visualized storm."
5 stars (Awesome)

One of the main characters in "The Hunt" ("Jagten") is about five years old, and there are times when Thomas Vinterberg's movie almost seems aimed at her, explaining in clear detail why she should never tell a lie. It's not for pre-schoolers, of course; it's a grown-up movie about grown-up things. Vinterberg simply chooses to show how caprice and hysteria can ruin a good man's life rather than engage in it.

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is, almost unquestionably, a good man; only his ex-wife bears him any ill will. Formerly a teacher at a now-closed school, he works at a day-care center where the kids all love him. One is Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). In fact, Klara starts to get a little too attached, and when Lucas attempts to establish proper boundaries, Klara tells one of the other teachers that Lucas exposed himself to her.

Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindhom don't quite tell the story in a completely straight line - the point-of-view switches between Lucas and Klara during the first half with an occasional detour to Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), Lucas's coworker and potential girlfriend, and a fair amount of the second half puts Lucas's son Marcus (Lasse FogelstrÝm) front-and-center - but there's often a somewhat procedural feel to the movie. It's a "victim procedural" more than a "police procedural", with cops, lawyers, and other officials only rarely drifting through the scene, but a large part of what makes the movie an interesting watch is seeing how this sort of investigation works and where it goes wrong. It's like watching dominoes fall in slow motion as questions meant to bring out the truth sometimes seem to have the worst possible effect of planting misinformation in characters' minds.

Of course, with much of the procedural material out of view, it's the actors' performances that are front and center, and there's not a bad one in the bunch. Mads Mikkelsen is the one the audience sees the most of, and he is excellent, showing that Lucas probably has quite a temper to go along with his big heart despite rarely losing it. He spends most of the film blending anger with stunned disbelief, and while the performance isn't particularly subtle, it's not the one-note portrayal it might be. Annika Wedderkopp, meanwhile, is impressively restrained for such a young actress - child actors tend to be precocious as a rule, so it's unusual to see one so able to show how uncomprehending a kid like Klara can be of the situation she has created. Lasse FogelstrÝm isn't exactly a child, of course, and handles the times when things are being told from Marcus's point of view well. The supporting cast almost unfailingly hits the right notes, from the townspeople serving simple purposes in single scenes to Thomas Bo Larsen, who gives the impression that Theo might have been a bit of a drunk before any of this started and doesn't improve as things go on.

They're each playing their roles, and Vinterberg puts them all together nicely. The opening of the movie is small scenes that both establish little details that will come together as part of the plot and foreshadow the community's capability for mania without being obvious or making the story drag, with the scene that turns everything upside down similarly underplayed. The rest is a steady turn of the screw - the angry, reactionary ostracizing of Lucas is pulled in enough that the audience still winces at moments when Lucas doesn't help himself. There's also an intriguing, subtle horror in the scenes with Klara, not from her becoming a monster, but from how she seems right on the border of recognizing the mess she's made.

The film finishes well, too, avoiding the seemingly-daring but actually obvious path but not ignoring it. It's the last of an impressive series of balancing acts - process and character, assumptions and reality, easy hatred and difficult sympathy. There's strength in its insistent clarity where other films would have reveled in chaos.

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