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25 Movies to See Before the Oscars: 18. The Hunt

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Nominations: Foreign Feature

Type-casting is such an unfortunate reality that lots of great actors must face as they try to build a career in Hollywood. This is especially true for the European crossovers so often cast a villains – the recent Jaguar Super Bowl ad was hilarious even if it did, ironically, contribute to self-pigeonholing – who most Americans can never take seriously and often never bother to see in anything other than movies where they play dastardly malefactors in snappy suits. Unless you’re a fan, the name Mads Mikkelsen only has meaning in context with “Le Chiffre from Casino Royale” or possibly as the new TV Hannibal Lecter. But in the film The Hunt, written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg in Mikkelsen’s native Denmark, the vulpine-faced actor proves he’s got more to offer than a piercing bad-guy stare and a dark and glossy voice.

Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a warm and kindly man, who has just recently lost his job at the closing of the school he taught at and is now working at a daycare. He’s recently divorced though still close with his teenage son and is friends with everyone in his village. He leads a pretty ordinary life – drinking with his buddies on the weekends and dating one of his lovely coworkers – until Klara, a young girl at the daycare and daughter of his best friends, has her little girl crush on Lucas rebuffed and reacts with a naïve anger and accuses Lucas of exposing himself to her. The ripples inevitably follow and conversion syndrome shakes all the parents of the village, thinking anything and everything their respective children do is a red flag for having been abused. Life becomes hell for Lucas as he crumbles under the hate and starts feeling horrible pangs of phantom guilt. The film’s null stylistic treatment and handheld camera work leave nowhere for the audience to focus but on the performances of the actors, and thankfully they hold it up well; from young Annika Wedderkopp’s wide-eyed innocent Klara, to Thomas Bo Larsen as Lucas’s best friend Theo, you wouldn’t want to pay attention to any other part of the movie even if there were anything else to see.

There’s a lot about the movie that veers toward farfetched – the scene where the child psychologist talks to Klara about her accusations is outrageously leading – especially since the torches-and-pitchforks mob that rises up against Lucas seems to sway the Police opinions far to much. The weight of what goes on in the movie is far too heavy though for that to be of any real consequence; those blips are easily forgotten and they don’t really go to the heart of the film, that is, the powers of suggestion as well as guilt. The Hunt isn’t a favorite to win the Foreign Film awards on the big night (Italy’s The Great Beauty is the safest bet), but there are lots of films that have taken home more prominent awards for a lot less than a magnetic leading performance (Slumdog Millionaire was a good movie, but not Best-Picture good). Mikkelsen won the Lead Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival and should have been prime to play the out-of-nowhere underdog nominee this year expect that those other guys are all really famous and have lots of money to make their campaign… but if The Hunt won for Best Foreign Language Feature in lieu of Mikkelsen’s snub, that would certainly make things even.

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