American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Mads Mikkelsen’s face suggests weathered, weary iciness: slit-like eyes, thin lips, skin pulled tightly across high cheekbones. Perhaps that’s why the Danish actor — who is best known to American audiences as the bad guy in "Casino Royale," and currently plays Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s "Hannibal" — is so often typecast as a villain.
Thomas Vinterberg’s new drama, "The Hunt," allows Mikkelsen to go beyond appearances and showcase his versatility. Wearing wire-frame glasses, his blond hair combed forward, Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, a kindly daycare employee who is falsely accused of exposing himself to a child. His performance — which won Best Actor at this year's Cannes Film Festival — is a nuanced portrait of a fundamentally decent man grappling with a world that has decided to treat him indecently.
"The Hunt" begins with Lucas leading a contented (though not exactly perfect) life in a small town. A teacher by training, he has been left jobless by the closing of the local school; now he works in a daycare, looking after kids during the day and drinking with their parents in the evening. He radiates a sort of quiet, reserved warmth. His caring is genuine, and inspires others to care about him; friends worry that he's lonely, living all by himself in the house he once shared with his son and ex-wife.
Everything changes, however, when — in a moment of anger — one of Lucas' charges tells the daycare owner he sexually abused her. "The Hunt" doesn’t play any is-he-or-isn't-he games with the accusation; it's clear to us from the start that it’s a lie. While the unsuspecting Lucas goes about his work, the daycare scrambles to investigate. A child psychologist is brought in. Damage control is planned.