Mads Mikkelsen-The Hunt-485
Photo credit: Charlotte Bruus-Christensen - Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
When a film dramatizes a credible situation—as A Hijacking recently did—and holds you in its grip, even as it makes you squirm with discomfort, that’s storytelling above and beyond the norm. Danish writer-director Thomas Vinterberg, who helped to forge the international Dogme movement in the 1990s, aims at both the head and the heart with The Hunt, which he wrote with Tobias Lindholm (who made A Hijacking). It doesn’t hurt that he has, as his star, the gifted actor Mads Mikkelsen.

The subject is deceptively simple: a divorced schoolteacher is working, temporarily, at a neighborhood kindergarten where he is a devoted caretaker of the rowdy young children. One of them, a precious five-year-old girl who lives next door—and is, in fact, the daughter of his closest friend—gets angry with him one day and tells the kindergarten supervisor that he did something inappropriate with her. The woman is shocked but knows it is imperative that she act. The problem: he is considered guilty from the moment the issue is raised, and not even the child can undo what’s been done. He’s a marked man. Only we in the audience know for certain that he is innocent.

The power of The Hunt is that forces us to ponder how we would respond in a similar situation. Would we shun a lifelong friend or believe a 5-year-old with a vivid imagination? Could we ever look at a neighbor the same way after hearing such an accusation?

The characters in Vinterberg and Lindholm’s screenplay are not symbolic. They’re real people, leading imperfect lives; they don’t always make good choices. But we can relate to their feelings, and their actions, at every turn of this searing drama. And we come to understand that there are no easy solutions once this particular snowball starts rolling.

The Hunt is as riveting as any Hollywood thriller but it contains no hint of contrivance or melodrama. It’s as powerful as a punch to the gut.