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The Hunter

The Hunter

Released 6 July 2012
Director Daniel Nettheim

Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Frances O'Connor, Callan Mulvey, Sullivan Stapleton
Writer(s) Alice Addison
Producer(s) Vincent Sheehan
Origin Australia
Running Time 102 minutes
Genre Drama, thriller
Rating 15A

Land Down Under.

Contracted by a sinister biotech company, soldier of fortune Martin David (Dafoe) is dropped into the Aussie wilderness in search of the last remaining Tasmanian tiger, a creature long considered extinct. Posing as a scientist to avoid arousing suspicion, Martin lodges with the family of an eco-warrior who mysteriously disappeared on the hunt for the same elusive creature he’s after. Distraught over the loss of her husband, young mother Lucy (O’ Connor) keeps herself sedated with meds and stays in bed all day, while her children run wild in their dilapidated but cosy home. Martin decides to step in as father figure in between hunting excursions and its here that the film takes a dramatic turn. Along the way, he’s guided by the potentially untrustworthy Jack (Neill) and encounters trouble from local rednecks that mistake him for a ‘Greenie’ and decide to smear shit on his task at hand, both literally and metaphorically. The film’s final act culminates in a predictable ending (and some dodgy CGI to boot) but the problem doesn’t lie in Dafoe, nor in the character the film derives its title from, but in the plot itself.

At its most effective when it lets the majestic Tasmanian landscape do the talking and puts the domestic issues by the wayside, The Hunter instead attempts to handle both its ‘Man Vs Nature’ and ‘outsider turned family man’ subplots  at the same time, and they never quite gel together. Along with the sprawling and sublime landscape shots, the film suffers as it also charts a loner figure forging a connection with a new family. The trouble is that while one moment Martin is getting in the thick of it in the wild, planting traps and scaling cliffs, the next he’s planning picnics and partying with hippies. The constant shifts in narrative render the plot unbalanced but that’s not to say the film doesn’t provide any poignant dramatic moments.

In a heart wrenching scene, Lucy wakes from her stupor as Martin and the kids celebrate finally getting the electricity in the house working. Dazed and still medicated, Lucy thinks her presumed-deadhusband has returned home and is crushed when she realises its Martin. Effective use of light and shadow is implemented with candles and hanging lanterns and the scene is scored wonderfully with the Springsteen hit, 'I’m On Fire'. Also noteworthy is child actress Morgana Davies, playing Lucy’s sharp-tongued daughter Sass. Charming and hilarious in equal measure, Davies has a bright career ahead of her.

Regardless of plot stumbles, Dafoe is remarkably convincing as the beaten and weathered mercenary. He’s a man who’s been both the hunter and the hunted countless times; the roughness of his face perfectly suited to his harsh surroundings.

For the most part, The Hunter succeeds as a taut and reasonably effective thriller and the perfectly cast Dafoe gives a subtle performance with the overwrought character arc he’s been dealt. It’s a decent effort from down under, but nothing we haven’t seen before.

- Cathal Prendergast