Monday, March 03, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Hunt (2013) ****

R, 115 min.
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Susse Wold, Anne Louise Hasing, Lars Ranthe, Alexandra Rapaport, Sebastian Bull Sarning

“The Hunt” is one of those ultimately frustrating movies where you find yourself talking to the screen trying to guide the characters away from the mistakes and misconceptions you just know they’re going to commit. “No, no, no. Don’t do that. It’s just gonna make it worse.” Despite your pleas, those people just go on doing what they’re doing as if they aren’t listening to you at all. This trait is most commonly associated with horror movies, but there are some movies that are just about horrors of life that embrace them as well. “The Hunt” is one of those.

The film comes to us all the way from Denmark, but plays on two universal fears; the fear for our children’s safety, and the fear of being falsely accused. It takes place in a small town, which just fuels the fires it contains. It follows a teacher who has gone to work at the local pre-school after the high school has been closed by a merging of districts. This event has left several local teachers without jobs. The man is the only male working in the pre-school, and while he’s greatly overqualified for the job, he seems to genuinely enjoy the children and they him.

His best friend has a daughter in the school, who is often left waiting for a ride to or from school. As it is on his way, the man often walks her. A small misunderstanding confuses the girl one day and she takes her anger out by repeating something she heard from one of her older brother’s friends and applying it to the man. It is interpreted as sexual abuse by the woman running the pre-school and things blow out of proportion quite quickly, working to destroy the man’s life in more ways than anyone can imagine. Of course, since the whole town is convinced he’s a sexual pervert, no one is much concerned about the consequences it has on the man’s life.

Director and co-writer Thomas Vinterberg masterfully crafts the movie. His and Tobias Lindholm’s script has mistakes made by all parties involved escalating so quickly the true facts of the case get run over. Despite the fact that the audience can see the mistakes being made, it’s all quite understandable how assumptions are made and mistakes perpetrated. The key moment is when one adult, who is not an expert in how these matters should be approached is asked to help and ends up leading the child further into her lie. He does suggest the right thing about getting the authorities involved right away, but the damage has already been done.

Some people may recognize the teacher as being played by Mads Mikkelsen, who is more famous in our country for playing villains. He currently plays Hannibal Lecter in the NBC television series “Hannibal”. I don’t know if his reputation is the same in his native Denmark or not and the filmmakers are playing on his menacing reputation. The film never really tries to make the audience believe he did the crime for which he’s being accused. It’s a refreshing break from the heavies I’m used to seeing him play. He’s a good guy, whose life is torn apart by a misunderstanding, and he handles it more reasonably than many would.

“The Hunt” was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards this year.

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