THE HUNT Drama. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larson, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrom, Susse Wold, Alexandre Rapaport. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Cert 15A
Set in a small community in rural Denmark, The Hunt provides a gripping, absorbing and at times terrifying depiction of the consequences of a false accusation. At the centre of this malevolent maelstrom is Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a divorced nursery-school teacher who's adored by his pupils, has a circle of close friends and drinking buddies, is desperately seeking to have more access to his teenage son (Lasse Fogelstrom) and has caught the eye of fellow teacher Nadjia (Alexandre Rapaport). From the off we can see that he's a decent bloke doing his best to get by.
All that changes however when one of his pupils, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), an imaginative five-year old who also happens to be the daughter of his best friend (Thomas Bo Larson), makes an allegation of sexual impropriety on the part of Lucas and his life begins to fall apart.
The fact that we know Lucas has done nothing of the sort is the key to the film's power, clearing the way for us to watch with increasing horror as a good man is shunned and hounded by those who once trusted and loved him.
Mikkelsen (best known as the villain in Casino Royale) won Best Actor at Cannes and that accolade was thoroughly deserved. His portrayal of Lucas is masterful, bringing us all the way from his character's initial exasperation that he's been so wronged right through to defiance and outright anger as he tries to clear his name, a virtual impossibility in this day and age given the nature of the smear against him.
The supporting cast is equally strong and the direction by Thomas Vinterberg is all too realistic, with hand-held cameras and the use of natural light putting us right there with the characters. The Hunt is a thoroughly relevant and thought-provoking piece of work, although not, I suspect, one which will prove too popular in teacher training colleges. hhhhi
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS Animation. Featuring the voices of Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law. Directed by Peter Ramsey. Cert General
Dreamworks has been on a commercial roll, with How to Train Your Dragon and the two Kung-Fu Panda movies doing massive box-office, and there's no reason to suspect that this film won't join them, especially given that the Christmas holidays are almost upon us.
Rise of the Guard- ians is essentially Avengers Assemble with fairytale characters as North (Alec Baldwin, voicing Santa as a Russian for some reason), Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman channelling Bugs Bunny via Crocodile Dundee) and the mute but cute Sandman recruiting the scampish Jack Frost (Chris Pine) into their group of 'guardians' in order to fight the villainous Pitch Black (Jude Law), a bogeyman with a plan to steal children's dreams and replace them with terrible nightmares.
It's all good fun, with the Easter Bunny getting the best one-liners and Santa's minions providing decent laughs while the animation is simply beautiful. The very definition of a family film.hhhIi
SIGHTSEERS Comedy/Thriller. Starring Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Tony Way, Seamus O'Neill. Directed by Ben Wheatley. Cert 16
In his two previous films, Down Terrace and Kill List, director Ben Wheatley displayed a great knack for mixing elements of kitchen sink drama with sudden surges of brutal violence.
Here he's done the same, only adding a bizarre strain of the blackest comedy into the mix.
Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who co-wrote the script, play Tina and Chris, a couple who head off on a caravan holiday around the British Midlands.
She's a dog psychologist still blaming herself for the death of a beloved pet while he's a budding writer, given to spouting nuggets of cod-philosophy -- which sounds hilarious when delivered in a broad Brummie accent.
He's also a psychopath, given to killing anyone who displeases him for the slightest reason, and before long they're on a bloody spree through caravan sites and odd heritage parks (Crich Tramway Village and a pencil museum anyone?) and scenic spots in the UK.
Sightseers is essentially Mike Leigh's Nuts in May crossed with Natural Born Killers. At times it's extraordinarily funny, even when being brutally violent, and while it doesn't quite hold up to the end it's certainly well worth a look and another fine addition to Ben Wheatley's CV. hhhIi
DEATH OF A SUPERHERO Drama. Starring Andy Serkis, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Aisling Loftus, Michael McElhatton. Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon. Cert 15A
Thomas Brodie-Sangster gives an eye-catching performance as Donald, a teenager with terminal cancer whose gift for producing comic-book art provides an outlet for his rage and anger at his impending demise.
Andy Serkis is suitably restrained as Donald's counsellor, Aisling Loftus provides Donald's romantic interest and the Dublin coastline looks rather fetching.
The film takes a bizarre lurch into Porky's territory at one point, but director Ian Fitzgibbon manages to pull some pretty incongruous elements into a largely cohesive whole.