Directed by Thomas Vinterberg & starring Mads Mikkelsen, who also won the Best Actor Award for this film at Cannes Film Festival last year, The Hunt is a provocative study of our ever judgmental society which is always ready to believe anything that gives them a chance to persecute someone without either verifying the accusation or even caring about how affecting & damaging it could be for the person who is actually blameless but ends up suffering the wrath of a mob mentality, nonetheless. Without showing any of its characters in a bad light, The Hunt is a brilliantly painted portrait of how prejudice can turn even the most decent people into a mindless mob.
The Hunt, also known as Jagten, is set around Christmas in a small Danish town housing a small, well-knit community of decent people and tells the story of Lucas, a kindergarten schoolteacher in his early forties, who is greatly admired by his peers, immensely loved by his schoolchildren, and is friendly with everyone in town. Rebuilding his life from the scratch after his recent divorce while also struggling with the custody of his son, Lucas’ life slowly starts to get better when he finds love again & receives good news from his son, but his new-found happiness soon takes a turn for the worse when an innocent little lie spreads like wildfire throughout the town and does an irreversible damage to his life, dignity & relationships.
Although there have been many films that have dealt with the subject matter of an innocent person wrongly accused of a serious crime, what separates The Hunt from other films is that director Thomas Vinterberg isn’t interested in showing how Lucas builds his strong defence, as the audience is already aware that he is not guilty, but instead puts greater emphasis on how he deals with the isolation & hostility that comes from his community after the false accusation. The writing is very skilfully done too as the film makes silence narrate the story as much as the words. Cinematography adds a layer of depth & vividness to the entire film and in spite of the film dealing with a grisly subject, its atmosphere has an immense sense of calmness to it. Editing paces the film in one gear throughout its runtime which only makes the entire experience much more streamlined. And music plays its part without disturbing a single content of the film.
Mads Mikkelsen is one of the very talented actors working in the film industry today and you might remember him as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale or as Dr. Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s TV show Hannibal. One of the best things about Mikkelsen is the ambiguity he brings to every single one of his characters and in this film, he delivers the finest performance of his short but admirable career, so far, and his Best Actor Award at Cannes was very well deserved as not only did he capture the true essence of Lucas’ plight but also kept his character so grounded that every viewer would be able to connect with his predicament if they put themselves in his shoes. Also bringing immaculate solidity to the acting department is Annika Wedderkopp as Klara, Lucas’ best friend’s daughter, who confuses an earlier event with another involving Lucas to construct a little lie against him without any idea of how profoundly destructive it will turn out to be. Other supporting performances also lift the whole film but it’s Mikkelsen who owns this film all the way.
The most powerful thing about The Hunt is that it puts up some very difficult questions in front of us and isn’t afraid to ask for an answer. It shows us that children are, indeed, capable of saying the stupidest things without any idea of what it can do to someone’s life and how society always believes their stories without even caring for any evidence, because in their eyes, children don’t lie. Many times we see Klara trying to contradict her earlier made-up story which the adults not only dismiss as her denial but even try to deconstruct it into something closer to what they want to hear & feed that modified version back to her. Reflecting on our society, Vinterberg shows that even the wisest people stop thinking wisely and waste no time in adopting the mindset of a mob against someone, just on the basis of a rumour. Also, the ending itself is a masterstroke which not only shows us that the damage done to Lucas’ life is simply irrevocable and that he will never be fully vindicated & has no choice but to live with it. Overall, The Hunt is an impressive, thought-provoking & potent cinema to come out from Denmark which maintains a strong grip on our emotions from start to finish, is scarier than your average horror flick and, in my opinion, is one of the strongest contenders for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this year.