Anchored by great performances and muted direction, The Hunt is a terrific movie that deserves the accolades it has received since 2012’s Cannes Festival.
Mads Mikklesen plays Lucas with skilled understatement. He makes us feel his character’s expanding joy throughout The Hunt’s introduction, his panic as life spins out of control, and finally his fear. Mikklesen deservedly won Cannes’ Best Actor award, just as he would deserve any other award recognition. 2013 has featured some tremendous performances, and Mikklesen’s counts as one of them.
He is not the only gifted actor here. Lasse Fogelstrom (Marcus) is outstanding in limited screen time, bursting with teenage angst and unrepressed emotion. Anna Wedderkopp (Klara) is strong, as are her fictional father, Thomas Bo Larsen (Theo) and kindergarten teacher, Susse Wold (Grethe). Which says nothing about the myriad actors I haven’t named; they are terrific, too.
Writer/Director Thomas Vinterberg equals, maybe exceeds, his cast. Using a subtle, sometimes non-existent score, unobtrusive lighting and cleverly mundane camera angles, Vinterberg makes the film’s production as understated as Mikklesen’s performance.
Which is also true of The Hunt’s sets and locations. None of them are grandiose or particularly impressive. They are all ordinary.
As is the cinematography. While The Hunt features some sweeping landscapes, Vinterberg and his Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen never draw undue attention to nature’s beauty. Neither do they hide from it, of course, but they show constant restraint in making their picture too pretty.
The script follows the same tendency, by making its characters average people who do average things. By setting the story in a small town and by paying careful attention to many characters and just as many plot-important details.
All of which leads me to this conclusion: The Hunt is a carefully calibrated piece of filmmaking wherein all of the elements (performance, camerawork, lighting, writing, etc) combine to immerse the viewer in a firm sense of reality. It doesn’t make us feel we’re watching a movie; it makes us feel we’re watching real people react, often badly, to a real mistake.
Which is why this film is so riveting, so gripping, so emotionally draining. Indeed, so powerful. (The prosaic scene in which Lucas and Theo share a drink is one of the most suspenseful scenes of 2013, despite a total lack of action or manipulative filmmaking tricks.)
Yet, The Hunt has a few minor flaws. The ending is a tad rushed, leaving Lucas’ place in his community a bit under-explored; Marcus’ arrival at Lucas’ home and his mother’s response to his relocation are insufficiently explained; and Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) disappears for too much of the movie, meaning we never know precisely how she reacts to Lucas’ predicament and therefore do not understand her role in the conclusion.
But the flaws are minor, and The Hunt’s strengths are immersive. This is a fantastic movie.