Mads Mikkelsen did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning Cannes, for portraying Lucas in The Hunt.
The second leading turn from 2012 for Mads Mikkelsen comes in a modern set piece where rather than playing a doctor who changes a kingdom he plays a rather normal man, which is also in contrast to his supporting roles in his English Language films where he is so often cast as the villain. Mikkelsen gives an appropriately unassuming performance in the early scenes as we see Lucas go about his day as a kindergarten teacher. There is something about this performance, even as Mikkelsen is just establishing Lucas as this likable normal guy. In that there is effortlessness to the point that it seems we are observing a man never a character. Mikkelsen though is equally at ease in how captivating he is all the same. There is nothing that Mikkelsen is doing other than representing an honest normal person but it is utterly transfixing. It is difficult to see where even to begin in terms of what Mikkelsen is doing that is so special even at this stage of his performance. His work though transcends any acting in a way that is fascinating but also pivotal to his role.
Mikkelsen's work makes us familiar with this man in the bit of joy he gets with working with the kids, but also the sense of responsibility with them as well. He allows us to learn of his dynamic with his friends as the somewhat shy, but outgoing enough member of the group. Mikkelsen's turn just is rich with history in that we have seem to come into observing this man's life at a random point. Mikkelsen, depending on with whom he is interacting with, says so much whether it is the comfort with his best friend Theo, or his slightly awkward yet charming in his own way flirting with his co-worker Nadja with whom he starts a relationships with. Mikkelsen allows such an investment into Lucas even as there is only one major difficulty in his life early on. It is again such remarkable work in how well realized Mikkelsen makes Lucas, yet without seeming attempting to enforce the viewer to notice, but one must when watching the film. The one major difficultly that we do see early is Lucas's inability to see his son, as he attempts to negotiate with his ex-wife to be able to have more days of custody with him.
In the phone calls to his wife though Mikkelsen is incredibly moving as in his words and the urgency he depicts the love Lucas has for his son. The honesty to his simple desire to just see him and spend time him is so eloquently found by Mikkelsen's performance. One does not see his son for quite some time into the film yet you want him to be able to because of Mikkelsen's heartfelt work. A far greater trouble comes unexpectedly due to Theo's young daughter, Klara, developing a crush on Lucas, which she attempts to act upon by giving Lucas a gift and kissing him on the lips. Mikkelsen's terrific in the way he is able to find the complexity in this relationship when Lucas has to put a stop to her behavior. In that he grants the right assertiveness yet warmth as he just attempts to tell her why it is not appropriate behavior. Again the depth Mikkelsen finds is notable though as there is nothing that only stands on the surface in his work. In this Mikkelsen creates the difficulty in the relationship by showing Lucas's affection as real, though entirely proper, which is misinterpreted by the young girl.
This leads Klara to make up a false story about Lucas having sexually molested her, which the head of the school believes. Mikkelsen importantly is able to convey how the lie actually grows all the more through Lucas's initial reaction, as he makes it such an honest moment of sheer disbelief that he doesn't deny only because he doesn't believe anyone could believe it. Mikkelsen portrays the lack of weight it initially has on Lucas's mind as he has Lucas go on basically as normal, since he knows there is no truth to the charge. The charge grows though which Lucas discovers first by discovering he can see his son leading him to go confront the head of the school. Mikkelsen is outstanding in the way his performance works two fold in that on one side, from the audiences view there can be such sympathy, while conveying also the way Lucas does not help himself in a natural way. Mikkelsen presents such earned outrage at the very notion, since he knows it is an absolute lie. He expresses this without reservation that reveals his anguish over not seeing his son due to the head of the school calling his wife, but it also shows how this indirectly does no endear himself to those around him.
The lies only grow which leads to a sort of hysteria among both the parents and children as they start accusing him of having abused multiple children. Mikkelsen is outstanding in capturing the intensity of the situation and Lucas's attempt to deal with the situation. Again how vividly he has already realized him makes these scenes all the more effective. Again though he shows so well that anger connected with people so easily believing the lie about him, and there's a great scene where he purposefully makes Nadja leave him because she shows any doubt on the matter. Mikkelsen though makes the action not only understandable but also powerful since within the anger he is able to attach to the turmoil in the man from being doubted over such a severe crime. When Lucas goes to attempt to speak anyone including in his friend Theo and his family who already begin by treating him as a convicted criminal, Mikkelsen finds such poignancy and pain there as he so gently delivers Lucas's earnest attempt to clear himself of the wrongdoing yet it falls upon the deaf ears due to the emotional state of his former friends.
Lucas's ostracized by his friends and criminal charges are even created by the false testimonies of the school children. There is a bit of happiness though as he is reunited with his son Marcus, and these moments are particularly affecting by how honest Mikkelsen realizes Lucas's joy at seeing his son with making the connection between the two wholly genuine. The reunion though is bittersweet though as Lucas is at first arrested, but even after he is released he faces harassment from the townspeople. This goes further than being ostracized by everyone except his own family as his window is smashed, he is attacked at the supermarket and his dog is murdered. Mikkelsen is amazing the way he is able to reflect Lucas taking in this abuse, as he shows him trying to stay above it in a way, but everything that happens still deeply hurts him. Mikkelsen wears this damage so powerfully as he shows the man just barely keeping it together with so many horrible things happening to him. Mikkelsen makes the moments of resilience carry such an impact after given such detail to the pain. In the supermarket scene for example where Mikkelsen ensure you feel every hit he receives from the aggressors yet makes the determination in Lucas believable when he goes back in to face his attackers. Mikkelsen is able to convey the way the modest Lucas breaks out of that modesty as a necessity of the confrontation and in doing so creates such a satisfying moment when he achieves his minor victory. However even after that moment Mikkelsen reveals the very real sorrow in Lucas when he has walked away from the crowd, giving the man forced to live solemnly by a community that has abandoned him.
This comes to a head when Lucas attends the Christmas Eve church service despite the hatred the town has for him. Now this scene, I'll admit from the outset is one of the best pieces of acting I've ever seen. In the scene Lucas sits in the front of the church alone watching the service paying attention to Theo in the congregation and his daughter in the choir. What happens next has allowed Mads Mikkelsen in this film to join the ranks of Richard Jordan in Gettysburg, and Dana Andrews in The Ox-Bow Incident, in that though I've never cried from a film I came very very close watching this scene. Mikkelsen is devastating as he reveals all of the trauma he's received in his emotional breakdown that is raw and absolutely heartbreaking. There are two moments where he turns to look directly at Theo and Mikkelsen again captures so much ache in a glance. His eyes say so much of what Lucas has been through and the sense of betrayal by being judged by his friend so swiftly. Mikkelsen is outstanding, as Lucas directly confronts Theo, by being such a mess fitting to a man who has had his life ruined by a lie. Mikkelsen has it all come out in such way that it so harrowing to witness. It goes even further as Mikkelsen makes it convincing that this show of emotion would make Theo reexamine his judgment. I'll admit I needed this film to have a happy ending, which does, mostly. The reason being Mikkelsen's stunning work that made me empathize with Lucas to such an extent. There is no limitation because of the fact that Lucas is a pretty normal guy outside of the central lie by how evocative and complex of a portrayal this is of a normal person. Mikkelsen gives an all time great performance as this is an example where I did not feel I was watching a character, but rather was just allowed to see this man bare his terrible burden.