In "The Hunt," Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a gentle man who's passionate about being a kindergarten teacher and takes pride in doing what he loves. While going through a tough period in his life, Lucas finds himself battling over custody of his teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom) with his ex-wife and is a very lonely man despite being loved by everyone in his small town. Things begin to turn around for Lucas as his son Marcus plans to move in with him while Lucas gets romantically involved with Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), who also works at his school. However, one of his students named Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) who's also the daughter of Lucas' best friend from childhood Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), gets a little too attached to Lucas and vocalizes something horrific and untrue that turns Lucas' life upside down.
"The Hunt" takes place between the months of November and December and mostly culminates on Christmas Eve. The film begins with Lucas fishing a grown naked man out of a lake before jumping to Lucas helping a student undress to use the toilet and demanding that Lucas helps him wipe. The Danish drama takes the appropriate amount of time to really flesh out the Lucas character as you really feel like you get to know how good-natured and lovable he really is. You find yourself with a divided mentality when it comes to Klara as she's very different from the other kids and quirky, but what she does in the span of one conversation is unforgivable. The argument can be made that she's only a child and that she doesn't know any better, but she also doesn't really put much effort into sterilizing the filth she dumps onto Lucas' reputation.
Filmed mostly in Denmark, "The Hunt" has some absolutely gorgeous filming locations that include breathtaking forests and superb shots of uninterrupted nature. While it's revealed early on that Lucas is innocent, the film almost tries to convince you otherwise. With all of the confessions from the other students, the townspeople turning their back on Lucas, and Lucas being denied service from simple establishments like the grocery store, you almost begin to believe that maybe Lucas is just in denial. If everyone knows he's guilty, he has to be right? As previously stated, it doesn't take long to be persuaded otherwise especially when Mads Mikkelsen's eyes tell the entire story.
The scary thing is how fast the entire town turns on Lucas and how they all aren't even willing to listen to his side of the story. His son Marcus and his friend Bruun (Lars Ranthe) seem to be the only people who believe that Lucas is innocent. These are people he's known for many years while him and Theo grew up together. Lucas is constantly shunned, shooed away, and becomes an outcast but the way he handles the situation is extraordinary. He still goes about his business as if it's just another day. Mads Mikkelsen delivers an exceptional performance as what's transpiring is really taking a toll on him, but he stays strong the majority of the film. The scene near the end of the film with the Christmas Eve prayer at church is outstanding and Mikkelsen's shining emotional moment.
"The Hunt" is like a low blow that keeps on swinging even when you're down and out. It is constantly putting your emotions in the crosshairs and seems to flourish the most whenever you feel your stomach drop from the hell that Lucas is put through. Even though he was also excellent in last year's "A Royal Affair," Mads Mikkelsen is at the top of his game in "The Hunt" and deserves to be recognized for his first-rate performance.