Mark Reviews Movies

The Hunt (2013)

THE HUNT (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Alexandra Rapaport 

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content including a graphic image, violence and language)

Running Time: 1:55

Release Date: 7/12/13 (limited); 8/2/13 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 2, 2013

We can't condemn the people who assume the man is guilty because the repercussions if they ignore the accusation and turn out to be wrong are too dreadful to consider. Therein lies the tension of The Hunt (Jagten), the story of a man wrongfully accused of multiple counts of child molestation who winds up in a Kafkaesque nightmare of being presumed guilty by almost everyone in town before the police even start investigating the allegations.

He's innocent. We know this the moment a young girl tells the principal of her kindergarten that she's seen his genitalia. The screenplay by director Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm never leaves a trace of doubt that the accusation—a statement of imagination based on childish anger and a quick look at some pornography that a friend of the girl's older brother teasingly shows her—is false. For the story being told, it's the right decision because any suspicion on our part that the girl might be telling the truth would create the same sort of hostility toward the film's protagonist that almost everyone around him feels. We know this, and it's why we can understand the reaction of the townsfolk who hear only one side of the story.

From that same mindset comes a nagging point: The loaded premise of the film, which assures the accused's innocence, is inherently irresponsible. It's not that the man is innocent that's troubling; it's the other side—that, for it to work, nearly an entire town's worth of children must be lying—that makes us wonder if the film is suggesting that such false accusations are commonplace.

The screenplay tries to alleviate such a questionable thought with a single line of dialogue, in which one of the few characters who actually believes Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is innocent points out that his case is the exception. It helps, yes, but still, we only have what the film presents to us. It's a picture of a man wrongfully suspected, adults erroneously concerned, and, most disturbing of all, children willingly deceitful.

That the film acknowledges its out-of-the-ordinary setup—even if it is only briefly—is a sign that Vinterberg and Lindholm are not working in terms of one side against another painted in monochromatic shades of black and white. The film clearly wants us to be uncomfortable about many things; it's not a stretch to imagine that the implications of the premise are among them.

Recently laid off as a teacher, Lucas has taken a job at a local kindergarten. He plays with—letting them chase him around the yard when he shows up in the morning—and helps the kids, and they adore him for it. Among his charges is Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) and his wife Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing). Her parents fight on a regular basis, and Lucas, with his trusty dog, walks her home after she runs away during one of those arguments.

She latches on to Lucas, and, one day while watching him play with other kids, Klara goes up to him and kisses him on the lips and leaves a heart made of beads in his pocket. He takes her aside, tells her that she should give the heart to a classmate and that she should only kiss her parents like that. Sitting alone after her mother is late to pick her up, Klara tells the principal Grethe (Susse Wold) that she hates Lucas "because he has a penis." Grethe decides to contact to the authorities.

Before she does so, though, she tells Lucas of the accusation (without divulging the identity of the child) and proceeds to tell other members of the staff, Agnes, and, at a previously scheduled meeting, all of the students' parents. She even contacts Lucas' ex-wife so that she might rethink sending their teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm) to live with his father. Grethe insists that she's following the guidelines, but she is, despite her good intentions, only making things worse by taking it upon herself to serve as an investigator with no legal jurisdiction to do anything beyond eventually contacting the police.

Her actions are simultaneously understandable and maddening, and that becomes our most common reaction to what follows. Lucas tries to explain his innocence to Theo, who wants to believe him but cannot come to grips with the possibility that his instinct to trust his friend could be wrong. More children, possibly talking to each other on the playground, start coming forward, and Lucas quickly becomes a pariah around town. His only advocates are Marcus, his friend Bruun (Lars Ranthe), and Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), a lovely co-worker whom he starts dating just before things go bad. After being accosted by her co-workers for being involved with him, she asks Lucas if he did it, which is enough reason for him to kick her out of his house.

Mikkelsen's slow-burn performance is fascinating for the way Lucas gradually seeks out ways in which he can make himself a martyr of public opinion. There's defiance in the face of injustice, but there's also stubbornness. Lucas may be innocent of the crimes of which he's been accused, but he's far from guiltless in letting that trait, which leads to more harm than good, get the better of him (His son takes after him in that regard, leading to one of the film's most intense scenes in which he confronts Theo and Klara).

There comes a point in The Hunt in which Lucas' fate comes down to two obvious possibilities: prison or freedom. We quickly come to realize that it's a false choice. Here, only one court counts, and they have already reached a verdict. The only question that remains is how harsh the sentence will be.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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