Martin (Willem Dafoe), a specialist industrial mercenary, is sent from Europe by an anonymous biotech company to the Tasmanian wilderness on a dramatic hunt for the last Tasmanian Tiger, believed to contain a unique and powerful chemical that could prove commercially valuable. Local veteran Jack (Sam Neill), arranges for Martin to be based at a remote house with Lucy (Frances O'Connor) the despondent wife and spirited children, Sass and Bike (Morgana Davis and Finn Woodlock) of a missing zoologist. As the local loggers and environmentalists face off in an uneasy stalemate, Martin is drawn deeper into the conflict. His unexpected connection to the family and the majestic wilderness around him, forces him to confront the reality of his work and personal morality, with dramatic consequences.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Haunting and mesmerising, The Hunter is an outstanding film that tackles a hot socio-political issue through a well crafted, character driven story - something Australian filmmakers should attempt more often.
If you want to reduce the film to its genre label, you could call it an eco-thriller, but that would not do the film's many achievements justice. What it is, though, is an excellent adaptation of a striking, original and thoroughly engaging novel by Julia Leigh. (Leigh's directing debut, also based on one of her novels, Sleeping Beauty, was far less successful, but it did enjoy the showcase of Official Competition at Cannes in 2011.)
The film is exceptionally cinematic, a combination of Robert Humphreys' marvellous cinematography and Tasmania's swoon scenery, both wild and tranquil. Layers of interest are woven through the screenplay, ranging from the zoological mystery of the Tasmanian tiger to the historic and ongoing clash between loggers and environmentalists over the spectacular forests of Tasmania wild country. The growing connection between the lone hunter and the lonely family is developed with subtlety and the interactions between these characters is especially satisfying for the audience.
The loggers who fear for their jobs are not portrayed sympathetically, but the logging issue isn't the thrust of the story - it is the context. Still, the visual argument to protect these forests is pretty irresistible.
The two main themes provide the setting for the thriller story in which shadowy corporations seek to find the tiger and milk it for its unique chemical ability to anaesthetize its prey, sending a lone hunter to bring back biosamples.
Where the filmmakers have succeeded is in getting all the many elements just right, from casting to the setting to the images - and of course, excellent direction from Daniel Nettheim, a seasoned TV director (with series like All Saints and Rush to his credit).
I don't know why Willem Dafoe was cast as Martin David, the mercenary-style industrial spy, but if it was to emphasise the character being an outsider, it works beautifully. Dafoe completely absorbs his character, delivering a masterful characterisation filled with minute details. His mere screen presence (partly thanks to wardrobe, make up & hair, of course) speaks volumes about him.
Frances O'Connor and Sam Neill are both highly effective, both delivering characters they haven't played before. The two kids are amazingly good, Morgana David as the pert little Sass and the younger Finn Woodlock handling the tough role of acting without words as a seasoned actor.
All the smaller support roles are equally effective, and it is a credit to Nettheim that he takes as much care with the smallest walk-on role as he does with his leads.
Tension is forever high, a function of restraint exercised by the perfect (artistically wonderful) storm of screenplay / direction / editing. There are multiple threats; the heated environmental conflict surrounding the plot, the mystery of the missing zoologist, husband and father to the family hosting David, and the tension of the hunt for the tiger.
Nettheim takes his time to build connections for his audience, and allows images to speak as much as dialogue. The Hunter is a tremendous achievement by all concerned, a film that delivers its emotional payload with sensitivity and power.
Review by Louise Keller:
The rugged beauty of Tasmania is the star of this riveting thriller in which Willem Dafoe's mercenary, Martin David, is sent to hunt down the last fabled Tasmanian tiger. The unforgiving isolated terrain with its dense bush and forests, replete with boulders, icy streams, spectacular fronds and rugged peaks is the film's backdrop where David ventures in search of the mysterious dog-like creature with the distinctive stripes and alleged secret.
Based on a book by Julia Leigh (of Sleeping Beauty infamy), the story's thriller element involves the notion of replicating and commercialising the tiger's unique ability to anaesthetise its prey. But there is much more to the story which includes greed, a conspiracy, foul play and topical environmental issues.
We jump headlong into the story as David arrives at his wilderness destination, finding an unexpectedly difficult environment. The owner of the remote cabin where he expects to stay is missing; his wife Lucy (Frances O'Connor) is asleep courtesy a cocktail of prescription medication while her two young children wander nearby. There is no electricity or hot water. There's open hostility at the local pub and the Greens are up in arms about the controversial local logging threatening the survival of the Tasmanian world heritage environment.
There's an air of mystery and tension from the very start and despite the fact that most of the film is set outdoors, director Daniel Nettheim creates a dense and compelling claustrophobic element. On David's ipod, the music of Dvorjak, Handel and Vivaldi bring drama to the isolated setting, countered by that of Bruce Springstein, when the power returns and the record on the turntable plays.
There are a myriad questions: What happened to Lucy's husband? Does the Tasmanian Tiger really exist? Is Sam Neill's helpful neighbour friend or foe? Sass (Morgana Davies) is the little girl who chatters non-stop, but what does her younger brother Bike (Finn Woodlock) know, the little boy who doesn't speak? And are David's intentions good or evil?
Dafoe is a terrific presence throughout and every crevice on his expressive face and his every moment speaks volumes. O'Connor and Neill are both excellent with small but important roles; the film's heart lies in the silent relationships between David and the little boy and that of David and the elusive Tiger. Robert Humphreys' cinematography captures the wonder of the harsh landscape and the bleak weather conditions while an eerie soundscape brings a genuinely creepy mood to the mix. This is a tense and unforgettable film that brought me to tears when I least expected it.
Email this article
HUNTER, THE (M)
CAST: Willem Dafoe, Frances O'Connor, Sam Neill, Dan Wyllie, Sullivan Stapleton, Callan Mulvey, Jacek Koman, Morgana Davies, Finn Woodlock, John Brumpton
PRODUCER: Vincent Sheehan
DIRECTOR: Daniel Nettheim
SCRIPT: Alice Addison (original adaptation by Wain Fimeri, novel by Julia Leigh)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Humphreys
EDITOR: Roland Gallois
MUSIC: Andrew Lancaster, Michael Lira, Matteo Zingales
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Steven Jones-Evans
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 6, 2011