As the man at the center of a social maelstrom, Mads Mikkelsen gives a restrained yet powerful performance, for which he was recognized with the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. He plays a man whose life becomes undone by an idle lie told by a child and a community that rushes to judgment. This Danish film from the director of 1998’s much-lauded The Celebration offers a close study of the power of a lie to do incalculable harm and the group dynamics that perpetuate the damage. The Hunt curiously shares some similarities with The Celebration, although its dissection of the malevolence at the heart of the situation is not as acute or masterful. Still, it’s a heart-wrenching story and we’re all implicated.
Lucas (Mikkelsen) is a kindergarten teacher in a small, hunting village in Denmark, who is recovering from a painful divorce and working to receive greater custody of his teenage son. He is best friends with the couple that lives next door, Theo and Agnes (Larsen and Hassing), and has a fond relationship with their daughter Klara (Wedderkopp), who is also one of his young pupils. One day, this child, who is infatuated with her neighbor, says some odd things which imply that Lucas is a sexual predator. And suddenly the town closes ranks against him. Everyone assumes that children don’t lie about such things. Klara, though she tries, is unable to take back her words and Lucas becomes a pariah.
As emotionally devastating as it is, The Hunt is nevertheless rather schematic and pat. Within the entire community, only one friend and Lucas’ son manage to sidestep the prevailing dogma. A coda packs an additional wallop, just when you think the story has reached some kind of resolution. Setting the story at Christmastime also adds to the sense of Lucas’ martyrdom. Yet Mikkelsen makes you empathize with Lucas every step of the way and helps make The Hunt a real moral nail-biter.