The Hunter Reviews
A film the promises much, but by the end offers only scraps; although there are things here that make this agreeable, but not by the end nothing particularly all that great. Willem Dafoe is perfect as the slightly cold-hearted, obsessive hunter who travels to the breathtaking Tasmanian wilderness to hunt for an animal that may for may not be extinct. The premise was there for an interesting film, so when this trundles along, never truly finding its main course of intrigue in either the hunting aspect or the hippy family that take him in, meaning this grows into an annoyingly disappointing film to watch. Dafoe's character is somewhat interesting, and so is the theme of an almost mythical beast running wild and what the realities of that means is handled well. Overall this is one of those films that appears like it should be a lot higher praised or well known - that is until you actually see it.
The story is that of Martin (Willem Dafoe), a mercenary hired by a company to track down and kill the last Tasmanian tiger in existence, due to the creature's pharmaceutical capabilities. During his mission Martin is given lodging with a local woman (Frances O'Connor) and her children, who have been rocked by the disappearance of her husband one year prior. While the children are more than excited to have some company, the wife has since fallen into a neigh cationic state via stupor brought about by over-prescribed medication. Along with having to hunt the tiger and restoring the family's homestead, Martin must deal with Jack (Sam Neill), local guide who seems to have an ominous connection with the family, as well as local loggers who want outsiders to stop imposing on their livelihoods. All of this transpires around Martin, while he still ventures out into the wilderness in search of the legendary creature.
Dafoe is in his element as the slightly-distant mercenary, who at first is only concerned about his mission, but becomes a sort of replacement for the family's missing husband. He comes across as a man who gains a sense of humanity which was missing, but regains it throughout his journey. Concise, cold, and a man who tries to focus on his job, but gets sidetracked by the world around him. As always Sam Neill is fantastic in any of his roles, though mostly known for his work in Jurassic Park, he has a large filmography full of quality work. There are two child actors in the film who are actually very good, where as in some films a scene can be killed by a child actor who is placed in the film because one of his family is a producer on the film, or something. But the performances by young actors Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock are quite good, and fit well with the tone of the story.
When it comes to the visuals, the film relies heavily on the wild, and at times almost alien landscape of Tasmania. Where as in film, Australia is generally restricted to the red sands of the outback or the rainforest areas along the country's east-coast, The Hunter reveals Tasmania to viewers who might have the foreign land revealed to them for the first time. The variation in the landscape changes throughout the film, and works as a way to frame Martin's journey. The house he stays at is in a very grounded and peaceful forest area, but as he gets closer to finding the tiger nature becomes more hostile, starting with a temperate forest, to marshland, and eventually to a snow-covered mountain area.
The setup of the film is Martin's search for a creature which is supposedly extinct, but during most of the movie that plotline takes a backseat to his interaction with the locals, and the effect that he as an outsider has on the community. Where are before his arrival things weren't great, the townsfolk and loggers were content to live their lives, but the rumors of a living Tasmanian tiger have begun to spread and fears that conversationalists will put an end to the logging rise up. This of course leads to mob mentality which causes trouble for Martin, as well as anyone who isn't in favor of the logging industry. Though Martin has no real stake in the outcome of anything besides his job be has built up enough of a connection with his hosts that he does try and affect the situation, albeit not in a direct manor.
The Hunter is a superb film, visually, writing-wise, as well as fantastically acted with an amazing performance by Willem Dafoe being the highlight of the film. Martin's journey as a character is the cornerstone of the film, with the audience following him throughout his trials and tribulations in search of an animal thought to be long dead.
Clive Barker's Sacrament is one of my favorite novels. Among Barker's best creations is the Killer of Last Things, a man whose destiny is to travel the world finding the final examples of species on the planet and driving them to extinction. Jacob, the Killer of Last Things, is an egalitarian; animal, vegetable, or mineral, he will wipe it out. On the other hand, there is Martin David, the protagonist of Julia Leigh's novel The Hunter. Martin, if that is his real name, is a specialist, a killer for hire who has been sent to Tasmania by a biotech corporation to hunt the legendary, possibly mythical, Tasmanian tiger. If it does exist, it is the last of its kind in the world.
The Tasmanian tiger is in fact extinct (though the last one ended its days in captivity; footage of it is shown during the film's title sequence). That does tend to cast a pall over things if you know it going in, and there's some crazy-conspiracist-theory stuff going on in this movie that truly stretches credibility (the corporation that hires Martin acts more like a shadow government than a multinational), but Willem Dafoe's performance, as is often the case, brings something to this movie it would not have otherwise had. While it's not in the same league as his should-have-gotten-an-Oscar turns in movies like To Live and Die in L.A. and Shadow of the Vampire, he does a very good job with a character who, to be successful, needed to be played very close to the vest. The supporting cast around him for the most part does a very good job as well, but Dafoe is the centerpiece here and the movie makes no bones about that. It is not without flaws, but is worth watching if you like your thrillers to deliver the goods over time. ***