Director: Daniel Nettheim
Writers: Julia Leigh (novel), Alice Addison and Wain Fimeri
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Frances O’Connor, Morgana Davies, and Finn Woodlock
Rated: R (language, violence)
Official movie site | Film is distributed by Magnolia Pictures | IMDb/trailer
Willem Dafoe is without a doubt one of my favorite actors. From his cross-dressing FBI agent in Boondock Saints to the Green Goblin in Spider-Man, he always owns whatever role he takes on. For The Hunter, he plays a mercenary named Martin David who’s sent by a bio-technology firm to collect the previously thought to be extinct Tasmanian tiger. This is the perfect kind of role for the actor who’s performance demands attention as the film centers on Martin and his adventure in the Australian wilderness.
From the start it’s clear that Martin is a seasoned veteran from the way he quickly turns down assistance at the beginning of his assignment to the cool and controlled manner in which he handles his gear. He’s always in control, always thinking three steps ahead. These are the kind of characters I enjoy in a movie, loners who automatically emit a sense of undeniable coolness.
Martin is not welcomed in the logging town. Locals are rugged and hostile, used to treehuggers and foreigners causing trouble in their town. Because of his reception, Martin immediately senses something is not quite right. Further, it’s learned that the family of whom he is renting a room from during his trip has some secrets that make Martin all the more suspicious. As he closes in on the elusive animal, the pressure rises in terms of him returning results to his employer as well as finding answers to the growing number of questions building in his mind.
The film moves at a fairly slow pace, starting out with Martin in the snowy forest, tracking his prey. I appreciated the simplicity and Zen-like nature of the scenery. Characters need to have a certain level of depth to pull in interest from an audience when they are solely on the screen for a majority of the movie, and Dafoe certainly gives it to Martin. Though not a lot happens during his treks into the woods, I was hanging onto each scene wondering what was going to happen next and found myself drawn to Martin’s story.
There’s a sub-plot involving the aforementioned family Martin is staying with that provides a nice change of pace. The mother Lucy (France O’Connor) is slowly awakening from a drug-induced slumber, partially due to Martin’s arrival and the spirit he brings into her house and the affect he has on the two children especially. This is where we’re reminded that Martin is a human, not a soulless machine. The film manages to tie in this story without stooping to the level of adding a predictable and unrealistic romance into the picture. The scenes involving the family feel honest and natural.
The Hunter seemed like it would be a nice stylish adventure flick when I first heard of it, and it did turn out to be that way. The pacing does seem to drag on at times, but after the film was over I was kind of glad it did. I got to feel personal with Martin, which made the story as a whole more interesting and meaningful. The beautiful snowy wilderness worked perfectly with the dark and mysterious story. The characters seemed authentic and were captured perfectly through a wonderful cast.
Though I found myself a few times wanting it to get to the point during its rather average runtime, my patience paid off. The synopsis may have all the signs of a macho actioner, but The Hunter is deemed a solid example of an exciting story that doesn’t have to rely on the old cliches of sex and glorified violence. This may let down a few viewers, but those seeking for an adventure with more emotion than explosion, this is one to watch.