Dir: Daniel Nettheim
Starring: Daniel Nettheim, Sam Neill, Frances O’Connor
The Film: A merc named Martin David is hired by a mysterious scientific corporation to head into the wilds of Australia to hunt down the Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger. Martin’s presence in the area attracts the attention of more than a few locals who are a little touchy when it comes to outsiders walking in on behalf of big corporations and doing their thing. While Martin makes a bit of leeway with a woman who rents a room to Martin, it doesn’t take long for him to get caught in more than a few crosshairs.
Outside of the various films, documentaries, actors and wildlife experts, I readily admit that I know next to nothing about Australia. Obviously I’m not a moron, so I’m not going to say that everyone in the land down under talks and acts like Paul Hogan. Also, thanks to Steve Irwin, I know that the Tasmanian Tiger is rarer than a recent photo of an non-bloated Val Kilmer. This oddly leads into THE HUNTER, which was directed by Daniel Nettheim and based on the novel by Julia Leigh. Since the last time that I saw Willem Dafoe was with a bolt through his ankle in ANTICHRIST, this looked like something I could get down with. And truth be told, I did.
Right away, I was taken aback by the skill behind the camera. THE HUNTER is a beautiful film to look at. Primarily, it’s about Martin doing his thing in the bush, gathering clues and planting traps to catch the elusive creature. There’s a real sense of isolation here, as it’s just Martin in the bush all by himself. It’s not the type of bush that you’d want to call home, either. It’s harsh, but at the same time, strangely peaceful. It’s not the wilderness of Ontario, Canada, but there’s a certain something that has me enthralled with it.
Of course, the other part of the film is the tension. Martin’s not exactly welcome in the area, and has more than a few brushes with folks. It also doesn’t help that Martin claims to be an American scientist, but ends up displaying extensive survival skills in a wilderness known for its dangers, and doesn’t accept any help. One of these things isn’t like the other. Throw in some loggers that perceive Martin as trying to save the forest with the “greenies”, and you have more than a few antagonists for Dafoe to deal with.
Acting wise, Dafoe is spot on, playing a take-no-crap character doing his job while reluctantly opening up to Lucy and her two kids. The relationship is a naturally progressive one that doesn’t feel forced, and really helps to flesh out the characters and their personalities. Elsewhere, Sam Neill does what Sam Neill does best, even though his character’s involvement isn’t entirely explained.
Any drawbacks for this film would be leveled towards the screenplay. As I said, Sam Neill’s character isn’t really given a proper sort of involvement, nor does it help that his character is introduced in the same bar that Martin previously visited where he got into a fight with the locals. Really, would you go back to the same bar where you had a fight the previous night? Other side characters don’t get much love from the script either, coming across as thin and one-note. Also, Martin’s mysterious employer does ultimately reveal itself, but the whole journey towards this revelation is clunky, and feels like it only becomes important at the end of the film.
Thankfully, the screenplay’s shortcomings don’t hamper the overall experience that THE HUNTER brings, which is one of intensity and tension. Dafoe’s performance is one you can hang your hat on, and is far above what you’d expect from a merc type of role. Adding to all of this is Nettheim’s masterful use of enveloping the viewers in the harsh Australian wilderness, which really helps sell Dafoe’s character’s actions. If you’re up for a eco-drama that’s high on tension and wonderful acting, this is it.
The Australian DVD
Audio/Video: The video is a 16:9 widescreen presentation. Audio is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1.
* Featurette detailing the mystery around the Tasmanian Tiger, working with Willem Dafoe, shooting in Tasmania and more!
* Audio commentary with director Daniel Nettheim and producer Vincent Sheehan
* ATOM study guide
Reviewed by Pat Torfe
Thanks to Ben from MadMan for his support.