There are so many stories out there to be told and sometimes it's those ones that don't necessarily hit the audience over the head with something dramatic, instead it's just a small lie that just spirals out of control with some shocking consequences that you just can't look away from. "The Hunt" tells the story of a simple kindergarten teacher in a small town who sees his life get torn apart, in such an understated and real way that it makes for one of the more visceral cinematic experiences of the year.
Mads Mikkelsen is a simple teacher who lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son's custody and ultimately coming to terms with his new life after his divorce. It all slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by a lie.
Thomas Vinterberg who has never exactly been known for making films that were light, airy feel good romps, continues here with an intense drama that is as grueling as it is gripping. Shooting the countryside with a distinct bleakness and visual pallor to it all, we feel this characters growing isolation from the town around him. Vinterberg who also co-wrote the script has it all unfold in such a slow burn that the films events genuinely creep up on you, not in a dramatic flourish but as a slowly drip as the lie spreads and his life gets painstakingly dismantled right in front of and by the people he counted as his nearest and dearest friends. Vinterberg smartly foreshadows all the events just a little so we can feel that pain of what Mikkelsen's character just doesn't see. While a film like this done in the Hollywood system may have veered into dreaded 'TV movie of the week' territory, it doesn't thanks to a performance that shows a man quite literally being torn to pieces both emotionally and physically and knowing the shadow that will always be over his head.
This stunning turn from the always excellent Mads Mikkelsen is obviously well known to North American audiences thanks to his role on "Hannibal" as well as his memorable turn as a Bond villain in "Casino Royale" and the isolated Lucas in this small town he becomes an easier target then he could ever possibly imagine. Running through every expected emotion he breaks himself down not through any over the top dramatic flourishes but through simple expression, and when he pushes back against the town abuse it's not for what they think he did, but because they can't let go of the idea that anyone committed these heinous crimes. It makes for a truly haunting and nuanced character drama, since you can easily sympathize with everyone involved. This thrilling and compelling story is one that you just can't look away from because they are all victims, not of any crime but of thinking that one actually happened and protecting themselves to the point of blind paranoia.
Sadly there are no special features on this DVD release.
At the end of the day, "The Hunt" will never be an easy film to sit through, but it is a necessary one as this kind of visceral drama that could happen anywhere will stay with you long after the credits roll and is easily one of the best films of 2013.
5 out of 5 stars.