He’s wept bloody tears in Casino Royale and eaten finely seasoned human lungs on TV’s Hannibal—but clearly, we don’t know Mads Mikkelsen the way his fellow Danes do. The actor is about to correct that with this quietly cataclysmic drama, in which he dons a spindly pair of eyeglasses and gets tackled by a gang of adoring kindergartners. He’s their teacher, Lucas, and, more privately, a bumbling divorcé not quite ready to get back in the game. You can’t blame him when Klara (seven-year-old Annika Wedderkopp, a pinched-nosed find) writes him a crush note, but when she’s gently steered elsewhere, her jealousy (and a flat-out vicious accusation) unleashes the community’s inner beast.
Director-cowriter Thomas Vinterberg has touched upon the subject of child abuse before, in 1998’s The Celebration, and truth be told, there’s nothing here—not Lucas’s ruined longtime friendship with Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), not his professional dismissal and public beating in a supermarket, not even a Christmas meltdown in a church—that you can’t see coming. Still, the movie works beautifully by bringing forward the delicate subject of guilt via passivity. Gossip, fearfulness and a distinct lack of skilled social work feed the town’s mania, yet the real fuel here is Mikkelsen’s restraint: By saying little, Lucas is a hulking, slightly mysterious guy, and that only makes things worse. Stories of whispered ruination are especially apt in today’s virtual playground; The Hunt reminds us that even an innocent face can undo a life.
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