Skip to main content

Look into my eyes. Look me in the eyes. What do you see?


The Hunt
(2012)

Mads Mikklesen gives an outstanding performance in Thomas Vinterberg’s latest, a piece stylistically so low key that it provokes all the stronger outrage in the viewer.

A divorced teacher and parent (Mikkelsen), lonely and now working at a nursery school after the local secondary closed, finds his life torn apart when a child accuses him of sexual misconduct. The child is also the daughter of his best friend (Thomas Bo Larson), and the soon the entire community has turned on him.

This is an extraordinarily powerful film, one where it is impossible not to become ever more incensed at the treatment of Mikkelsen’s character as events go from bad to worse. Vinterberg establishes from the start that the accusation is entirely false, ensuring the hows and whys of its occurrence are abundantly clear.

Vinterberg is particularly strong at highlighting what he considers to be the Catch-22 absurdity of the scenario; if the child later recants her accusation it must be on account of fear, not because it was actually a lie in the first place. And, as the only man in a teaching environment where only women are deemed acceptable (in the general mindset), he is virtually walking around with a target on his head.

The powerless position that Mikkelesen is placed in is perhaps the film’s strongest suit, but some of the contributing elements are overplayed. The head teacher is unable to deal with the situation with any degree of balance and goes out of her way to sentence the accused, disregarding all appropriate procedures. The social services interviewer prompts his witness in a highly unprofessional manner. All concerned repeat the mantra “Children don’t lie”, making them the most unlikely and oblivious parents and teachers. And the point at which we are told all the children have levelled accusations at Mikkelsen stretches realism to the point where subtext takes over. This over-egging slightly undermines the serious intent.

In addition, given his all-round vilification, some scenes (Mikkelsen’s altercation in the local supermarket) happen at a much later stage than one would expect. While plot and character points mentioned all serve to reinforce the wrongness of the situation, one can’t help but think that the result would have been even more chilling if his treatment had been more “by the book” and he was still condemned and ostracised.

As the celebrity child abuse scandal in the UK indicates, investigation is enough to confirm guilt in the minds of most people.  Outside of the courtroom, it is the presumption of guilt that reins. Mikkelsen’s character will endure stigma for the rest of his life, no matter what the legal verdict is in his case. So there’s a sense that Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm (Borgen) have unnecessarily stacked the deck, amping up the the ignorance and stupidity of those who exert power (so to ignite a stronger viewer response). It’s also evident that they were much clearer with their premise than where they wanted to take it; in the second half of the film, with the arrival of Mikkelsen’s son (a strong performance from Lasse Fogelstrøm), shifts the focus and eases up on the torment.

Nevertheless, there’s a great deal of power in the depiction of the small town lynch mob mentality, always ready to find someone to hate with “justification”; an outlet for the all the ills and anger they nurse. While the subject is highly topical, this key theme suggests an intentional parallel to the likes of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (which presented the witches of Salem trials as an allegory for McCarthyite witch-hunts); the snowballing of a comment made out of rejection/anger increases to community-shattering proportions, making villains of friends at the turn of a dime.

The inability of Mikkelsen's character to respond to accusations to his best advantage seems entirely plausible, but the ambiguous ending suggests a deeper weakness on his part (his willingness to remain with a group where trust can never be rekindled). From that perspective, the final suggestion of threat is not all together necessary (the point has already been made). Then, perhaps the subdued tone belies an intent on the part of the director to make his point as boldly as possible. After all, the title of the film, and the parallelling of Mikklesen with the deer that are his prey, isn’t the subtlest. With a touch of restraint on Vinterberg’s part, The Hunt might have been a masterpiece, rather than merely a highly proficient one that masterfully pushes its audience’s buttons.

**** 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

Another case of the screaming oopizootics.

Doctor Who Season 14 – Worst to Best The best Doctor Who season? In terms of general recognition and unadulterated celebration, there’s certainly a strong case to be made for Fourteen. The zenith of Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s plans for the series finds it relinquishing the cosy rapport of the Doctor and Sarah in favour of the less-trodden terrain of a solo adventure and underlying conflict with new companion Leela. More especially, it finds the production team finally stretching themselves conceptually after thoroughly exploring their “gothic horror” template over the course of the previous two seasons (well, mostly the previous one).

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.