If you are only familiar with Mads Mikkelsen’s character work as the titled lead in the television series Hannibal, then you’ve only seen a microcosm of his range and talent. Mads possess a natural commanding presence that rivals any actor working today.
In 2006 I discovered the Pusher trilogy on DVD by Nicolas Refn Widening which included his 1996 directorial debut (Pusher) and the debut breakout performance of a 31 year-old actor named Mads Mikkelsen. The three films (Pusher, Pusher 2 with Mads) not only fueled my love of Danish and Scandinavian film, but it quickly turned into a mini obsession for Mikkelsen’s work – devouring all of his early incredible body of critically acclaimed work: The Green Butchers, Shake It All About, Open Hearts, Flickering Lights, Adams Apples, Torremolinos 73, Prague (I recommend you see as many as possible, and most are finally available on Netflix.) Mads never disappoints. Hollywood called, and in 2006 Mads Mikkelsen appeared in Casino Royale as the Le Chiffrein, the bleeding eye villain, the same year that he also was the lead in the Suzanne Bier’s Oscar nominated, After the Wedding. (Danish Director Bier went onto win the Academy Award four years later with In a Better World also starring Mads Mikkelsen). It’s been a slow but a steady climb to become a household name.
If you don’t know the name Mads Mikkelsen – it’s time to learn. And, where better to discover his fine acting skill and appeal than to see The Hunt – one of the best U.S. theatrical releases of 2013. Sit back and brace yourself for a terrifying and tense thriller that achingly reveals how certain actions can never be undone. You can turn the other cheek, time might appear to heal all wounds, but you don’t forget. No one does.
Written by Thomas Vinderberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking), The Hunt is the gripping and harrowing Nordic character study of Lucas (Mikkelsen), a man whose life threatens to be destroyed by the false accusations of child abuse. Vinderberg, who is also the director, expertly explores the psychological depth of this excruciating, modern day The Crucible. The horror of the subject matter shook me to my core, and is one that may cause you to think twice about ever being alone with a child that’s not your own.
The is not an easy film, but Mikkelsen’s sublime performance to the panic, and fear of being out of control to an untruth, and Vinterberg’s bold filmmaking make The Hunt deeply rewarding. Masterfully conceived, The Hunt is the Danish director’s best film since his release of the first Dogma 95 film, Festen (The Celebration), the stunning 1998 Cannes Special Jury Prize winner. Vinterberg took the Ecumenical Jury award for The Hunt in 2012 at Cannes, and Mikkelsen, won the 2012 Best Actor prize. Nominated for the Palme d’Or, The Hunt is further distinguished by Vinderberg’s sharp attention to the behavioral details and the intimate handling of events leading to the town’s persecution of it’s ostracized suspect. The accuser is Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the five-year-old daughter of Lucas’ long time best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). The accusation is just the beginning of the whirlwind of drama to follow.
One of the film’s strengths is it’s restraint; it never feels forced or exploitative. Set in a small, rural community where everyone knows everyone, on the surface life is simple and serene. Early on we see Lucas’ life in transition, but he’s unflappable in his ability to accept any challenge presented. He’s recently divorce and struggling to gain custody of his teenage son. He’s also taking a chance on a new relationship with a co-worker at school; both are handled with a controlled calm. Immediately following the accusations, we witness the physicality of Mikkelson’s performance as Lucas. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders while still maintaining an air of resilience, but that inner strength slowly begins to unravel.
The damning community sentiment and mob mentality of guilt holds Lucas captive, and through the spiral of rush to judgement we experience (and sympathize with) his incredulity and despair, and the lingering ramifications of the community’s alienation. Even though Lucas has known these citizens all of his life – he’s one of their own – everyone has an immediate response when they learn of Chloris frightening allegations against him. But the truth is no one knows how to properly react. Would you?
Adults lie. Children lie.
When adults lie, one can clearly realize the self-serving motivation or personal reward that comes with those lies. When a child lies it is different, and the rational become fuzzy. At what age does a kid knowingly learn to be manipulative? When a child’s cry of sexual abuse is raised, it is impossible to deny, ignore, and not to believe. The notion of a child telling a lie or imaginative tales involving sexual abuse is unthinkable, although headlines every day let us know that such fabrications occur, and lives are destroyed. Vinderberg is smart not to turn this into a drawn out legal tale or a police procedural. Instead the focus is on the emotional intricacies, the quick spreading hysteria of the community, and the emphasis on the destruction of his closest friendship. All which make this heartbreaking, unthinkable story all the more fragile. Richly textured with dual meaning, the climatic confrontation in church on Christmas eve is a powerful statement.
Ultimately, in the case of The Hunt, the situation comes down to a divorced, Kindergarten teacher’s word against a five-year-old little girl’s. It doesn’t matter if she recants. No matter what the truth may be, it’s too late.
His world will never be the same.
Running Time: 115 minutes. In Danish with English subtitles.
Rated R. Contains sexual content, including a graphic image, violence and profanity.
Here are the showtimes for DC area theaters.
The Hunt website.