Released: 29 October 2012
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Sam Neil
Summary: A beautiful, poignant film with a magnificent central performance from Dafoe.
The thylacine (or Tasmanian tiger) officially became extinct in 1936 but, despite this fact, sightings have been widely reported across the Australian island state of Tasmania ever since. And this is what inspires the basic premise of The Hunter (based on the 1999 novel of the same name): having been reliably informed that a single tiger still survives near to a tiny Tasmanian logging town, a sinister biotech corporation hires Willem Dafoe’s shady character (alias Martin David) to hunt it down for them.
Under the flaky guise of a researcher studying wild Tasmanian devils, Martin arrives at his mission site to a hostile reception: ‘we don’t like greenies around here’ is what one angry local tells him in the town bar. And so Martin begins the tricky task of tracking down his elusive quarry whilst trying not to aggravate the redundancy threatened loggers, or be found out by the real environmentalists fighting to protect the ancient Tasmanian forest.
As if his job wasn’t already difficult enough, Martin’s outback accommodation is cohabitated by Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor), wife to a missing university researcher who, unable to cope with her husband’s extensive absence, lies medicated into a stupor as her two children, Sass and Bike (Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock), tear around her dilapidated smallholding half-wild.
So a lot for Martin to deal with, then, and by extension of course, Dafoe. When required, the twice Academy Award nominee has to alter between withdrawn, affable, uncomfortable and ruthless, all the while retaining the calculating and composed core of his seemingly detached character. And he does it brilliantly. Throughout The Hunter, Dafoe’s performance is so magnificent he arguably eclipses the striking and exquisitely shot Tasmanian scenery he traverses.
As for the film’s plot, it’s set at a wonderfully slow-burning pace allowing Dafoe ample time to deal with the numerous storylines, as well as the chance to reflect upon his own standing as a dying breed in need of redemption.
Other actors impress, too, particularly Sam Neil who wields his limited screen time as a man caught up in the ongoing logger vs environmentalist dispute with true dilemma (it’s worth noting that Neil’s quandary is expanded upon in deleted scenes that should probably have made the final cut). The young actors playing the Armstrong siblings are also excellent, handling the delicate emotions of children dealing with a dire situation memorably.
With all the plots involved in The Hunter, it would have been all too easy for the film’s final act to fall flat on its face, but this isn’t so; the various storylines develop and knit together beautifully, and the poignant final sequences are, like the rest of the film, superbly directed by Daniel Netthiem. In short, an underrated gem.
DVD Extras: An insightful making of documentary including the aforementioned deleted scenes, theatrical trailer and candid interview with Willem Dafoe covering (amongst other things) his research and early involvement with the film’s script.
- To prepare for his role, Dafoe worked closely with a bush survival expert who taught him various trapping skills.
- Actually marsupials, thylacine prey is believed to have included kangaroos, wombats, wallabies and possums.
- In 1983, CNN founder Ted Turner offered a $100,000 reward for proof of a live thylacine still in existence.
Has anyone seen The Hunter? Do you agree with the review? Let us know in the comments section below.