‘The Hunt’ shakes up theaters with emotional performances

As “The Hunt,” easily one of the best films of 2014, begins, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is beginning to piece his life back together after a painful divorce. Lucas works at a kindergarten where the children and staff adore him.

One day, a child makes up a story that implies that Lucas may have abused her, and a well-meaning employee investigates.

What results is a mass hysteria and witch hunt that slowly and irrevocably devastates the innocent Lucas’ life.

MCT Photo Mads Mikkelsen delivers an inspiring performance in "The Hunt."

MCT Photo
Mads Mikkelsen delivers an inspiring performance in “The Hunt.”

A 2014 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nominee, Danish film “The Hunt” grapples with lofty themes that are far from new — from Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” to recent flicks like “Doubt” and “Prisoners” — yet still feels fresh and vital, likely due to the devastatingly human performances that pack this community drama.

While virtually every performance in “The Hunt” is captivating, a real discussion of the film would not be complete without an acknowledgment of Mads Mikkelsen and the depth he brings to his character, Lucas.

American audience members may recognize Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter from TV’s “Hannibal,” or as Le Chiffre from the James Bond film “Casino Royale.”

His high cheekbones and pointy features may account for his frequent casting as a ne’er-do-well, but he excels in “The Hunt” as a rather sympathetic character, wearing his emotions throughout the film on his increasingly battered and dismal face.

The naturalistic cinematography, rife with symbolic weight and self-consciously arty, imbues the film with a melancholy, meditative aesthetic that is never quite bleak enough to cause the audience to loose hope that someday, somehow, things will work out for Lucas.

While “The Hunt” is nerve-shredding and emotionally exhausting, the film wisely sprinkles enough humor and warmth to cast a tender eye on the beauty of things that unite us instead of dividing us: nature, love, friendship, and childhood. This allows the film to transcend the nightmarish scenario it depicts.

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