Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor at Cannes last year for his delicate performance in the riveting drama The Hunt. He plays Lucas, a recently divorced father working at the local kindergarten. Early on the film takes time to establish Lucas as a good and genial man. Things in his life aren’t perfect, but he’s kindhearted and well liked. Mads has always had a face carved more for villains and darkness with his hollow eyes and flat cheeks, but he redirects his physicality into an inner melancholy. We like this man, so it’s unsettling how quickly his life crumbles when the daughter of his best friend accuses him of sexually assaulting her. Pandora’s box has been opened. He is forever marked and that unique face of his betrays his frustrations as predatory.
But this isn’t a film like Doubt where the incident is ambiguous. We know Lucas is innocent. It’s literally a laughable accusation. As the title suggests, this movie is more like The Crucible. The difference is Klara, the young accuser, doesn’t really understand what she’s saying. She’s misplaced feelings for Lucas because of his attentiveness and her oblivious parents. Mix that with a wild 5-year-old imagination and Klara accidentally being exposed to a pornographic image and things get out of hand. The devastation to Lucas’ reputation spreads like wildfire. Though things fall apart, the film remains low key. It’s about the human fallout without indulging in histrionics.
Lucas loses his job, his girlfriend, his family, and takes a beating. He does avoid paying the ultimate price but the stain remains. The film is casually cynical which might turn off some viewers. The world is evil, even mistakenly, and holding tight to ideals is sometimes futile. It’s an interesting take and a compelling examination. Near the end, the film circles around the perspective of Lucas’ son too much with little payoff. However, when co-writer/director Thomas Vinterberg trains his camera on the urgent and soulful lead performance The Hunt hits its target.