Film Review: The Hunt

Crudely, if maybe helpfully, this drama about how a false accusation of child abuse destroys the life of a simple kindergarten worker could be dubbed <i>The Children&#8217;s Hour</i> meets <i>Capturing the Friedmans</i>. But this disappointment from Do

With director Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg created the Dogme 95 manifesto which embraced virtues of a kind of back-to-basics filmmaking that was manifest in Vinterberg’s 1998 award-winning debut Dogme film, The Celebration. Such virtues included strong story, acting and clarity of theme, all served up by unadorned camerawork, no tricky effects and a cast of fresh faces. The goal was to better immerse viewers in the emotionally charged material.

Cut to The Hunt, which goes in a different direction. It’s very polished, with confusing themes (the culture of hunting, the nature of lying and gossip, the power of forgiveness?), and has narrative lapses that torpedo credibility. But should the film not get the reviews and word of mouth required to fire up the box office, the intense performance from star Mads Mikkelsen (A Royal Affair, Clash of the Titans, Casino Royale, etc.) could prove a good hedge.

The story immediately establishes Lucas (Mikkelsen) as a regular guy caring for youngsters at a kindergarten and bonding for rest and rec with his hunter buddies for outdoor activities like shooting, drinking and swimming. On the home front and separated from his partner, Lucas is granted only limited contact with their teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom), with whom he maintains a loving relationship. Evidence of his affinity for the younger set also comes by way of little Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the kindergartner daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) and his wife Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing). Klara adores Lucas and loves his dog Fanny.

But all’s not quiet on the school front after Klara impulsively relates to her mom that Lucas showed her his privates. Word of this travels to Grethe (Susse Wold), the harsh, loose-tongued kindergarten boss. Speaking with Klara, Grethe further learns that Lucas has apparently given the little girl a heart-shaped pin. As damaging if apocryphal information mounts, a clueless Lucas goes about his business. He also begins a new relationship with Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) that could become serious.

But with the tendency of human nature to embrace and nurture scandal, sordid tales and lies and the misfortune of others, Lucas’ problems escalate. With considerable help from Grethe and a shrink, who both plant suggestive details in Klara’s head, the case of child abuse against Lucas grows. Lies become more ornate (he has fooled around with other kids and even uses his basement for such activities, etc.). One by one, friends turn against him. He is brought in for police interrogation and becomes a pariah in his small community, even to the extent that he and his son Marcus are asked not to shop at the local supermarket. Lucas’ wealthy friend and godfather to Marcus, Bruun (Lars Ranthe), and Marcus seem the only reasoned ones amongst the witch mob.

The major frustration with this drama lies with script and direction and their pervasive determination to deepen the hero’s dilemma: Lucas has a number of opportunities to promote, plead, proclaim and scream his innocence (something audiences will themselves be screaming for), but he remains silent, passive, almost masochistic in going along with the escalation of blatant lies.

There’s also the matter of what Vinterberg is getting at with this story: A blast at the hunting culture does take the lead (token animal heads adorn Theo’s apartment and a late scene underlines the hunting theme) as it vies with a worst-case scenario of mob mentality. Otherwise, The Hunt is beautifully shot and performed. But gritty, immersive Dogme it is not.