Films about child abuse are not uncommon; in the past few years, Doubt and Precious earned both critical and public acclaim. But a film about child abuse in which the accused adult is the victim is something rare indeed. Writer and director Thomas Vinterberg turns the abuse film trope on its head with The Hunt, a stunning, raw look at how lies and gossip can rip apart a small town and one innocent man's life.
The innocent man at the center of The Hunt is Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen with a performance that earned him Cannes' Best Actor award), a kindergarten teacher who forms a close bond with one student, his best friend's daughter, Klara. When Lucas rebuffs Klara's growing crush, the little girl acts out — in a fit of anger, Klara tells another teacher that Lucas has sexually abused her (the film cleverly has Klara repeat pornographic expressions she overheard her teenaged brother saying). What follows is a manhunt that leaves audiences — along with Lucas — shaking with anger.
Unlike the aforementioned Doubt, there is never any question that Lucas is innocent. And this conceit brings with it enough emotional baggage to carry the film for its 115 minutes. As Lucas' frustration turns to despair and finally terror, so does the audience's. And yet, you can't help but sympathize with the parents and community as well. "Why would a child lie?" is one of the film's central questions, and while the audience is privy to the answer throughout, it is equally understandable why the adults are unable to comprehend this being the case. While it's horrifying to see an innocent man so ruthlessly persecuted, it's equally (maybe even more) terrible to think of an abused child going unavenged. So who wins here? The film asks the question but leaves the viewer to find his own answer, buried somewhere at the bottom of the giant pit building in his stomach.
In addition to the challenging moral questions it asks of its audience, the film is superlative in its casting. Mikkelsen leads the charge with his honest, lovable, and righteous Lucas, but not far behind is seven-year-old Annika Wedderkopp as Klara. With her endearing nose twitch and soulful eyes, she is such a natural on screen you sometimes forget you're watching a scripted film. Supporting actors Thomas Bo Larsen and Anne Louise Hassing (as Klara's parents) as well as Danish veteran actress Susse Wold (as Klara's teacher) help to further create a believable world.
But, as good as the acting is, The Hunt is more than the sum of its strong performances. It is the emotional rollercoaster — from delight to dread to terror and back — that the film takes you on that makes it one to remember. Or, more accurately, one that you'll find very hard to forget. Vinterberg's vision is one that haunts you — just as Lucas' trials will haunt him — long after you leave the theater.
Follow Abbey On Twitter @Abbeystone | Follow Hollywood.Com On Twitter @Hollywood_Com
More:Thomas Vinterberg on Making an 'Incredibly Danish' FilmUltimate Villain Mads Mikkelsen on Being Good in 'The Hunt' Cannes Chatter: 'The Hunt' Premieres to Audience Applause
From Our PartnersStars Pose Naked for 'Allure' (Celebuzz)20 Grisliest TV Deaths of 2012-2013 (Vulture)
Now it’s Milo’s (Zlatko Buric) turn the big bad drug dealer from the original Pusher. It begins with him going to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He says he wants to get clean so he can have a better relationship with his daughter Milena (Marinela Dekic). In the next scene Milo goes back to scoring drugs but he’s also planning Milena’s birthday party. As the big night nears Milo finds out that his latest score was ecstasy not heroin but sorting that out doesn’t seem so much of a priority to him. Milo gets busy cooking for his family gathering while his underlings try to sort out the X/dope mess. Milena’s got her own interests too and she’s not afraid of her badass father. The twist of the family story is a nice change-up for the Pusher series but it still delves into the violent world of drugs and qualifies as a worthy entry to the franchise. Buric plays a much older Milo here than he did in the first Pusher. With a deep sorry mumble he’s going through the motions of older age. He gets exasperated with his crew for pestering him while he’s trying to attend to his family and he seems like a normal dad in that way. Family fights are the same normal blow ups with quick forgiveness that happen at any Thanksgiving day gathering. As the night wears on Buric shows Milo’s growing intensity. His silent brooding means he is evaluating his distractions but really remains calm in even the worst of drug mishaps. It’s way cooler than the panicked street hoods of the first two Pushers. Now you can watch a real pro at work. As Milena Dekick doesn’t have too much personality. Is she spoiled? We get hints of that. Is she just controlling? Probably and with good reason living in that family. The other crew members are just generic criminals. Focusing on the family and Milo’s attempted recovery from addiction is a good twist. All the street dealing was getting old especially in Pusher II. This seems like a more adult Pusher dealing with real issues everyone has in some way--work family etc. It’s just most people aren’t thugs. Like a My Big Fat European Pusher this third one creates more excitement around the party preparations than the crime world. Still the movie is a Pusher so you’re waiting for the crime story to pop back in. The violence is plenty brutal but it’s torture not action. There’s no suspense because this is Milo the man in charge. It really makes one wish they’d just combined all three perspectives into one massive expose rather than dragging it out through three films.
Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) the wild boyfriend of the original Pusher is the star of this sequel. Back in prison he gets some advice about facing fears and creating an image of himself but it doesn’t work out so well; he gets his ass kicked. After the opening titles Tonny is out in the real world again. He gets some work at his father (Leif Sylvester)’s shady chop shop garage but he can’t even do that right. Tonny’s luck isn’t much better with the ladies. Even prostitutes can’t get him off. Soon Tonny finds out that his ex-girlfriend Charlotte (Anne Sorensen) has had a child. There’s more stealing than dealing in Pusher II but drugs are always there. Along the way Tonny tries taking care of the baby. Bringing the tot along to a wedding/bachelor party while mom is snorting in the bathroom speaks volumes to what kind of parents these are. It hardly feels like a continuing story but more a spin-off with a supporting character. Mikkelsen makes Tonny look like a hopeless soul. He’s sad the whole time but in a pathetic way. He’s not expressing his feelings to anyone not chasing a better life just going through the same old motions. It looks like he’s about to weep but even that would take more effort than Tonny can muster. The women look lovely like exotic foreign models but they act like vulgar riff raff. Sorensen never makes you sympathize with her stranded as a single mother. Her friend played by Maria Erwolter seems to have a bit more hope for a happy life with a wedding but she deteriorates into the druggie cycle like the others. Sylvester plays dad as the most normal relatable character in the film. He may be a criminal but he’s still just a guy disappointed and frustrated with his loser son. Nicolas Winding Refn is still shooting his Pusher movies with handheld cameras so the shot is always bouncing around the action. Action could just mean people sitting around snorting up or whining because there is far less physical action in Pusher II. Near the beginning a botched car robbery leads to a big realistic car crash which looks like a random burst of violence coming out of nowhere to surprise the audience. Any other carnage is really just the protagonists attacking themselves. One of their tricks to stall for time is to pretend they’ve been shot or robbed so they shoot each other and trash their own place. Any mild tension created by the original Pusher’s selected acts of violence is lost. Maybe something was lost in translation. The beginning theme about overcoming fear and creating one’s own public myth never pays off. What was the point that Tonny didn’t do either? That he remained a pathetic loser? This could very well be the message of these downer films. Pusher II barely feels like a sequel.