There’s something beautifully serene about The Hunter that makes watching it a superbly engaging experience. While the film follows the basic themes of man versus nature, man versus himself and man versus man, it does so with a unique voice and style that helps add layers to the story and characters without actually making it explicitly obvious that it’s doing so.
This doesn’t mean The Hunter is overly hard to follow, as it’s rather simple to get the gist of it even if you’re not fully engrossed in the film. But those who embark on this journey of self-discovery with this man, and allow themselves to be swept up in the scenery and underlying elements found along the way will definitely walk away with more than those who don’t.
The Hunter stars Willem Dafoe as Martin David, a highly skilled mercenary who is hired by a mysterious biotech company to go to Tasmania and hunt the elusive Tasmanian tiger, an animal thought to be long extinct, so that they can harvest its genetic material. When Martin arrives in Tasmania he realizes that his accommodations are not what he expected, as he’s been bunked in with a small family who live in a farmhouse that is lacking in essential areas such as power and hot water.
He discovers that the generator has been broken for some time now, and the reason it hasn’t been fixed yet is because the father of the household went missing roughly a year earlier. As Martin attempts to complete his work, he finds himself going against his own code of conduct as he slowly becomes more and more emotionally involved with the family. As he begins down this path, he starts to realize that he may be involved in something much more dangerous than he first realized, and that when it comes to finding the mysterious Tasmanian tiger, for some, failure is not an option.
On the acting side of things The Hunter truly shines, as Dafoe once again proves that he’s one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. Known mainly for his villainous role as the Green Goblin in Spider-Man, Dafoe has made some incredibly powerful films in recent years, with performances that other actors likely wish they could achieve. The Hunter is another one of those films, and his performance in it is magnificent.
The supporting cast is also quite strong and helps bring a wonderful chemistry to the screen that really helps make this film as strong as it is. The most recognizable of the group would be Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) who plays Jack Mindy, a mysterious man who has been watching over the family Martin is staying with since their father disappeared. Neill is great, though a few deleted scenes show that his character lost some depth in the final cut, which makes the character’s choices and reasoning a bit cloudy overall.
The family consists of the mother, and grieving wife Lucy (Frances O’Connor) and her two children, Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock). All three have a great chemistry that makes them feel like a real family that’s a little emotionally lost and missing something in their life. O’Connor and Dafoe also fit together well on screen, which helps take the story of those two characters to the next level without even having to say a word. And the children are absolutely great, and a joy to watch on the screen, which isn’t always the case with child actors. Davies and Woodlock both hold their own against their famous counterparts, however, which is an impressive feat in itself.
One of the main characters of the film that you won’t find in the credits is the Tasmanian landscape used to beautifully capture almost every shot. With a tight shooting schedule, the filmmakers had to go with what they were given as far as weather was concerned, and it actually pays off, adding to the overall film when sudden bursts of rain appear at times, followed by clear skies, and even a snowy blizzard at one point. It’s a breathtaking addition to the film, which really helps push forward the themes of loneliness and isolation as well.
Director Daniel Nettheim really does a great job capturing the heart of the story on screen, often without the use of words. His keen eye for visuals also allows him to use the scenery to his full advantage, making this an absolutely gorgeous film to sit through. The cinematography by Robert Humphreys is also immaculate, giving the film a true rough and gritty feel of being trapped in the wilderness. Alice Addison adapted the screenplay off of an earlier script by Wain Fimeri who originally adapted the novel of the same name written by Julia Leigh. I’ve yet to read the book, though I have no doubt that finding ways to show the emotional connections between characters without feeling the need to explain everything that’s happening in awkward conversations was a hard task. In the end, however, the job was accomplished, and the film excels because of this.
The Hunter is yet another film that finds its way here from the land down under, as Australia continues to prove itself as a filming community that can deliver some powerful gems. Dafoe is masterful, and the supporting cast is top notch in this captivating dramatic adventure that should be hunted down and viewed at your nearest convenience.
The visuals for the Blu-ray transfer of this film are superb, and really capture the stunning scenery that eats up a lot of the screen when Dafoe is out in the wild. The cool tones throughout add to the isolated feel, and the warmer change when indoors or around those Martin cares about really pushes the themes forward visually. The audio is also well done, with strong sound effects helping to bring the viewer into the wild with Martin. The dialogue is also clear, with only a few instances where subtitles may be needed to help with the accents a bit.
The Making of: The Story – This is the first of four small making of featurettes, with this one running at three and a half minutes in length and focusing on the story of the film. Here the Nettheim talks about the themes of the film, the idea behind the Tasmanian tiger, and the characters in the story.
The Making of: The Characters – This is the longest featurette of the bunch, as it runs at 17 minutes and 45 seconds in length. This featurette goes through each of the main cast members as they talk about their characters, and those that they worked with as well. Characters touched upon are Martin David, Jack Mindy, Lucy, Bike and Sass Armstrong, and even their husband/father Jarrah, who we actually get to see in person for the first time.
The Making of: Tasmania – This featurette runs at just under eight minutes in length and sees Nettheim talking about how the film was shot on a small budget, and how they had to shoot regardless of the weather conditions at the time. He speaks about how this helped them get some great shots, but also how it made for some stressful situations as they were truly at the mercy of mother nature in some cases.
The Making of: The Tiger – This is a featurette that comes in at just under four minutes long, and here we see some of the locals talking about their experiences with the Tasmanian tiger, and how some of them actually believe they’ve witnessed the elusive animal. There’s also a bit of history shown of how the Tasmanian tiger used to be abundant in numbers, but was hunted down some time ago to the point of rumoured extinction.
The Hunter is a beautiful looking film with wonderful performances by all involved and an atmosphere that’s perfectly captured by the filmmakers which helps set the tone for the movie right from the very beginning. Those looking for an interesting, unique film with a mysterious story to tell need look no further than this. Highly recommended.
Screen Australia presents The Hunter. Directed by: Daniel Nettheim. Written by: Alice Addison. Based on the novel by: Julia Leigh Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Sam Neill, Morgana Davies, Finn Woodlock. Running time: 100 minutes. Rating: R. Released: July 3, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Australia, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe