Mads Mikkelsen won at Cannes for his portrayal of a man falsely accused of a sex crime in "The Hunt." Credit: Magnolia Pictures Mads Mikkelsen won at Cannes for his portrayal of a man falsely accused of a sex crime in "The Hunt."
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

‘The Hunt’
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

Eons ago, director Thomas Vinterberg made his name with “The Celebration,” a beautifully hysterical look at a family gathering ruined when one son revealed his father had molested his children. He’s never topped it, nor come close, but at least “The Hunt,” is smart, basically by going the opposite way. Where “The Celebration” was shot in the grimy, ‘90s video aesthetics of the then-Dogme 95 collective, his latest is a clean, sober, decidedly non-hysterical look at a man who didn’t molest children.

Indeed, there’s no doubt ever that Lucas, (Mads Mikkelsen), is innocent. A kindergarten teacher in a small Danish town, he’s accused of exposing his genitals to the young daughter of his best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). By establishing that he’s been falsely accused, it frees to watch as a clearly baseless accusation, understandably mishandled by nice people, snowballs into a hopeless quagmire. Even after Klara (Annika Wenderkopp), his accusee, recants her testimony, everyone’s too hopped up for there to be a clean resolution.

 

If the truth about Lucas is always clear, what’s not is whether it can maintain its intelligence. Many an astute drama has gone off the rails in the final stretch. “Lakeview Terrace,” a surprisingly trenchant examination of modern racial relations among the upper middle class, turned in its third act into exactly the braindrained exploitation picture its trailers promised. The planting of Lucas’ adorable springer spaniel and a hunting gun in the film’s initial scenes all but beg for gruesome, silly payoffs that will finally shed the credibility the film’s built up.

That “The Hunt” miraculously manages to use these two elements and still remain (mostly) sober to the end is worth a commendation. It could still stand to be even tighter. Too many minor characters, including the surly staff of what appears to be the town’s only supermarket, might as well twirl mustaches, and the way the town quickly turns on Lucas — curiously, without a mention of social media — can make the film more like a reductive problem picture.

But the film — and Mikkelsen, an excellent actor currently reviving Hannibal Lecter on TV, who won at Cannes for his fine work here — stops short of making Lucas a martyr. He has character flaws: When questioned, he gets indignant, even violent. And he disappears from the film for stretches, the film shifting to his son as well as Theo, who wrestles with guilt over his best friend's downfall. There’s an even smarter, even more exacting film to made from this material. But this will do.

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