In 2012, two great Danes, director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen, teamed up for the powerhouse drama The Hunt, about a teacher victimised by his community when wrongly accused of abusing a pupil. For their reprise, Mikkelsen again plays a teacher and is again phenomenal; though this time the film fails to deliver on its premise.
Four male, middle-aged school teachers and friends are stuck in a rut: Martin (Mikkelsen) is the worst, so overcome by ennui that he barely speaks to his wife and kids, and has completely lost the trust of his history students; sports master Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), music teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe) and philosophy teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are also absent in their own classes, to varying degrees.
It’s Nikolaj who comes up with a plan to wake themselves up, citing a philosophiser’s cod theory that people would genuinely benefit from being a little drunk, all of the time, releasing their self-confidence and “spirit”. Noting that “this entire country drinks like maniacs anyway”, our heroes decide to introduce alcohol into their working day – on the sly, of course, and in the self-deceiving guise of valuable scientific study.
At first it kinda works, as classroom performances lighten up, improve, and lift the students. Martin even introduces inebriation as a theme in his lessons, citing Churchill among others as an example of boozily successful leadership. Who cares if the teacher slurs a few words, when a tipsy wind is blowing away the cobwebs?
However, as the enboldened boys decide to “go a bit higher”, alcoholism inevitably awaits.
Vinterberg and co-scriptwriter Tobias Lindholm (who also penned The Hunt with him) set things up well enough, but then don’t seem to know what to do with the ethical conundrum they’ve introduced. While there is personal consequence to all this drinking (which does make ones own head swim a bit), the filmmakers sit on a very dodgy fence when dealing with the characters’ behaviour in the school context. It’s not an ambivalence that feels challenging, merely befuddled.
That said, the cast is immensely watchable, together creating a very believable group of friends. Chief amongst them, the masterfully minimalist, always authentic Mikkelsen is immeasurably moving as a man who will do almost anything to get his mojo back.
This review first appeared in The Arts Desk