You may recognize Mads Mikkelsen as the bad guy in NBC’s “Hannibal” or “Casino Royale,” but he plays a much different role in “The Hunt,” which is up for an Oscar on Sunday.
Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, a divorced kindergarten teacher who’s trying to win custody of his teenage son. He’s a staple in his community with a tight-knit group of friends, and he’s a favorite of the children and staff at his school — until one of his students develops an innocent crush and kisses him.
He tells her actions like that are for moms and dads, and she responds with an unfounded accusation of indecent conduct.
Watching the school’s principal take unorthodox steps — calling Lucas’ ex-wife and sharing the accusation with other parents before calling the authorities — is incredibly unsettling. Hysteria on par with “The Crucible” sets in, and there’s no turning back even when the student says she lied.
The key difference between “The Hunt” and other films about child abuse — such as “Doubt” and “The Woodsman” — is our protagonist is innocent, and that makes the shift in this film hard to bear.
I was on the edge of my seat as the townspeople preyed on Lucas with cunning. His friends, colleagues and former students fear and flee him, and avoidance escalates to violence slowly and realistically.
Mikkelsen relays subdued despair and suspicion so well that you’re paranoid for him.
In one scene, his girlfriend asks if he’s guilty. His exhaustion flips to hopelessness then rage as he repeats “You think I’m a sick person?”
Supporting players Thomas Bo Larsen and Annika Wedderkopp take “The Hunt” to the next level, but it’s Mikkelsen’s performance that steals the show.
The direction and cinematography were spot on with earthy tones indoors and out, reinforcing the town as a metaphorical hunting ground.
This film is an engrossing look at our flawed human nature, civility as a social construct and the fragile line between the hunter and the hunted.
“The Hunt” is a solid candidate for an Oscar win Sunday, and it’s definitely worth a watch.
Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.
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