Danish teenagers play an unusual drinking game at the beginning of director Thomas Vinterberg’s new film.

Teamed in pairs, they run around a large lake carrying a case of beer and must finish the entire load before they can cross the finish line, where adults cheer them on and police idly look on.

It’s a familiar tradition in Denmark, a country whose laissez-faire attitudes towards alcohol create the backdrop for the most intriguing premise to a feature film.

Another Round, starring Mads Mikkelsen, follows four high school teachers plagued with the malaise and minutia of ordinary everyday life. Their solution to rouse them from lethargy in the hopes of being better teachers, more attentive spouses and to feel alive again is to test a theory that they will improve their lives by keeping a constant, yet moderate amount of alcohol in their system.

If it were an American film, Another Round would be a rumpus comedy that might blend Animal House with American Beauty. But Vinterberg keeps a more deliberate tone that feels looser and free from genre constraints, floating in and out of pace in a naturalistic sense that pervades the lead performance as well as the filmmaking itself.

Mikkelsen is more subdued than one might expect from a character experimenting with alcohol as intoxication brings out layers within Martin, both positive and negative that Mikkelsen balances to create a sense of believability without excessive sloppiness.

The shallow lethargy of Martin to open the film, almost to the point where audiences can touch the glazed-over look in Mikkelsen’s lifeless eyes, begins to awaken as alcohol flows into his system to validate the group’s hypothesis. Mikkelsen and Vinterberg take great care to ensure that the path to inebriation feels fluid and in keeping with a larger dramatic narrative rather than for comedic show.

Within Mikkelsen, viewers are able to feel the pulsating highs and crashing lows of alcoholism in revealing, entertaining ways that ground Vinterberg’s tragicomedy.

While Martin provides the center of the film, his three comrades in drink – Tommy, Peter and Nikolaj – give Another Round added depth by exploring the differences alcohol may have on people mentally and physically. Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe and Magnus Millang perfectly capture the relatable way in which close co-workers can bond together and yet lead separate lives hidden away in solitude.

The narrative is framed through segments that follow the trajectory of the group’s “research,” with Vinterberg often interrupting the visual space with black screens and small text to indicate text message conversations or lines from the study the group is writing as it is being crafted. Smartly, this also clearly defines for the audience the degree to which Martin and his colleagues are intoxicated, often showing the blood alcohol content level rise on screen as breathalyzers are used.

Vinterberg’s screenplay – written with Tobias Lindholm – draws the audience in by giving Martin the words to express his emotions as the alcohol increases, but also starts to remove those words at the same rate with a potent poignancy that culminates in one of the year’s most rousing cinematic endings.

A clear front runner for Best International Feature at this year’s Academy Awards, Another Round also snuck into the Best Director category for Vinterberg, ousting expected nominee Aaron Sorkin for The Trial of the Chicago 7 and contender Regina King for One Night in Miami.

Another Round isn’t an advertisement for alcohol use in excess, nor is it a treatise on the moral consequences of substance abuse. Countless films have engaged with the subject matter in that way.

Through Mikkelsen’s splendid performance and a thoughtful screenplay, Vinterberg has captured a largely hopeful outlook that celebrates life and second chances – literally another round of living – that audiences should seek out now that the Oscar contender has arrived on Hulu.

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