A film review by Craig J. Koban August 11, 2012
2012, R, 100 mins.
2012, R, 100 mins.
Martin: Willem Dafoe / Jack: Sam Neill / Lucy: Frances O’Connor / Sass: Morgana Davies / Bike: Finn Woodlock
Directed by Daniel Nettheim / Written by Alice Addison, based on the novel by Julia Leigh
Nettheim’s THE HUNTER focuses on one mercenary’s lonely, but highly
driven quest to track and locate one of the most endangered animals on the
planet, believed to be extinct since the mid-1900’s.
Willem Dafoe, who seems to have a face that’s born to play a
world-weary, battle hardened, and meticulously obsessive-minded hunter,
stars as the merc in question. He’s got those angular and craggy
features, piercing eyes, and overall icy disposition that makes him an
instantly credible presence all throughout THE HUNTER.
prey in question is the Tasmanian Tiger, a very odd looking creature that
looks like a wild canine with tiger strips that has essentially gone into
extinction (the last known specimen apparently died in 1936 while in a
zoo). The last reported
sighting of one was nearly forty years ago in southern Australia, where
the animal had achieved near mythic stature.
Even though there have been many unconfirmed sightings and of the
Tasmanian Tiger, capturing one has eluded hunters for decades, which is
highly ironic, seeing as aggressive hunting and deforestation has all but
lead to the animal’s annihilation.
plays Martin David, the aforementioned mercenary hunter that lives a life
of constant solitude and has a peculiar love of opera, bathing, and
weapons of all sorts. When
the film opens we see him at a Parisian hotel where he awaits his next
orders from a high profile client. While
there he meets with a representative from a military biotech firm named
Red Leaf. They desperately wants Martin’s unique tracking and hunting
skills to head to a remote part of Tasmania, locate the famed
Tasmanian Tiger, and then collect its hair and tissue samples. He is
also ordered to
destroy the rest of the beast after he has completed his mission.
Something just does not seem…right…from the get go, and Martin
seems to sense it. It appears
that Red Leaf wants no one else to have any rights to the DNA of the creature, hoping to utilize its genetic material for God knows
does have a cover while on his mission; he poses as a university biologist
on a research outing. When he arrives in the most isolated section of
the Tasmanian outback he is immediately greeted by the locales with suspicion
and hostility. A
locale guide (played well by Sam Neil) sets him up with a room in the
out-of-the-way home of Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor) and her two
children. When he arrives at
the woman’s home he finds the kids essentially fending for themselves,
largely because Lucy is in a chronic comatose state from all the
anti-depressants she’s been taking.
Her zoologist husband has long since gone missing in the
mountains and many people in the community believe that his disappearance
and potential death was no mere accident.
Maybe this has something to do with the reaction that Martin gets
when he initially comes to the area.
One of the central mysteries of the film is whether the husband was
killed by the elements, wild animals, or by the blue collar timber workers
that feel that environmentalists coming in and preaching an anti-forestry
agenda is a threat to their way of life.
Either way, Martin entering the picture posing as a biologist does
not sit well with the disgruntled working class.
of the less than warm welcome Martin receives, the living quarters he is
given if far from ideal: the cottage has no power, is dirty and unclean,
and has no real adult figure looking after the property, largely due to
Frances being committed to her bed 24/7.
This predictably leads to the children bonding with the hunter,
something that he does not want, seeing as it sort of taints his edge and
focus on his task at hand. His
mission grows even more complicated when it becomes alarmingly clear
that he may not be the only one looking to nab the tiger.
On one mission his vehicle is trashed, on another expedition he
hears gunshots from afar, and on a late trek through the fog entrenched
wild he comes across a motion activated camera that snaps his picture.
Martin fully begins to grasp the complexity and inherent danger
of his mission, not to mention that his employers take umbrage with him
fraternizing with Frances and her children.
finest sections of the film are its quietest, showing Martin hiking all
alone through the forests using stealth, ingenuity, and a wide
array of survivalist strategies to nab his elusive prey.
The film was wisely shot on location in Tasmania, utilizing an
evocatively sullen color palate by Robert Humphreys, which gives THE
HUNTER a sense of stark environmental immediacy and veracity; the film becomes
almost hauntingly beautiful and foreboding at the same time.
What’s kind of compelling is how the film lures you into the
desolate and lonesome world of the hunter and how he operates within the
larger framework of the rocky, snowy, and moss covered forests he
inhabits. This is greatly
assisted by Dafoe’s superlative work, who seems to fluently suggest a
man driven by gnarly compulsion, a steadfast duty to his employers, and a
sense of inner conflict with his mission and his growing emotional
intimacy to Frances and her children.
greatly appreciated how the relationship between Frances and Martin does
not traverse on the journey-most-traveled approach of setting them up as
obligatory lovers, not to mention that Martin’s transformation from a
withdrawn and cold hearted recluse to a semi-paternal figure to Frances’
children is handled with appropriate and unforced tact.
Yet, there’s no denying the inherent predictability and
obviousness of the film’s narrative trajectory with turning the stone
cold hunter into a vulnerable man through his interactions with the
family. There's also perhaps far too many subplots
lurking in the background that are all vying for attention and, in turn,
distract from the worth of the whole. You
have the story of the shadowy Red Leaf and their business and
conspiratorial imperatives to capture the tiger’s DNA; the local timber
workers that who have had it with environmentalists (and newcomers like
Martin) interfering with their vocation; the real motives of Neil’s
murky character and how he figures in on all of this; the mystery of
Frances’ husband and his apparent death; and so on and so on.
Yet, THE HUNTER is a sumptuous and magnificently shot film with a grounded performance of soft-spoken charisma and low-key intensity by Dafoe. I think that those that are expecting the pulse pounding, man-versus-nature intrigue and unsettling gravitas of the Liam Neeson-centric and action-packed THE GREY may be setting themselves for dissatisfaction here. Yet, THE HUNTER is not intended as a high octane adventure film; it’s a more character driven drama and a modulated, hushed, and internalized thriller, which is kind of characteristic of its troubled hero.