Review of The Hunter


Movie Review: "The Hunter"

Rating: R (language, brief violence)
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: October 6, 2011
Directed by: Daniel Nettheim
Genre: Drama/Adventure

Willem Dafoe gives a commanding performance as Martin David, a mercenary for hire who has questionable morals, if any. He also serves as the hunter who gives the story its title. He will work for anyone and do just about anything they ask-for a price. He works alone and likes the solitude that his nomadic lifestyle gives him. Despite his lone nature, he is a man of refinement who enjoys classical music, good food, and long bubble baths.

Martin is hired on his reputation by a European company who wishes for him to go into Tasmania to hunt for a rare Tasmanian tiger. Thought to be extinct, there have been recent sightings of the elusive tiger. If it does exist, Martin is tasked with bringing back samples for testing. The shadowy biotech company giving the assignment believes that the tiger carries a rare substance inside of it that is very valuable on the black market. They are willing to pay him big bucks because the tiger will bring in even bigger bucks in return. Martin agrees and he is off to the wilds of Tasmania.

Once there, local guide Jack (Sam Neill) decides to put Martin up in the home of a missing local zoologist. The zoologist's wife Lucy (Frances O'Conner) is emotionally crippled due to not knowing if her husband is dead or alive. She lives in a very remote part of Tasmania with her two children, Sass (Morgana Davies) and the mute Bike (Finn Woodlock). The two kids are also coping with the mysterious disappearance of their father, though they don't have tons of pills to help them like their mom does.

A lone wolf like Martin is not used to having kids around, and it shows at first. As the movie progresses, he begins to get closer to the kids and, in turn, to Lucy as well. All of this bonding takes place against the beautiful Tasmanian backdrop, which director Daniel Nettheim doesn't forget to showcase.

Despite his growing affection for his host family, Martin doesn't forget what he was hired for. The problem is that there is already a lot of turmoil in the region, as environmentalists regularly clash with local loggers. This type of chaos is hardly an ideal setting for trying to hunt an elusive and possibly extinct tiger.

Martin tries very hard not to get dragged into the ongoing dispute between the opposing sides. This isn't the way he works. When it comes to the job, he is more like a well-oiled machine. He goes in, gets what he needs, and gets out quickly. He is never distracted by families, emotions, and political arguments-that is, until he comes to Tasmania.

It is a real testament to the finely-crafted script by Alice Addison that the audience cares about Martin. The character is adapted well from the novel by Julia Leigh. Many people argue that the book is always better than the film. In this case, the film is as gripping as the book. All of the characters translate well to the screen, and the emotional baggage is completely believable. The audience will truly care what happens to these characters by the end of the movie.

Despite all of the dramatic elements, this film is still a thriller at heart. There are plenty of adventure scenes when Martin and Jack go hunting. The scenes are beautifully shot by cinematographer Robert Humphreys, who really knows how to show off the beauty of this remote part of Australia.

The performances are outstanding from top to bottom. Dafoe, in particular, completely embodies his role. Sam Neill does a fine job as the Tasmanian local who guides Martin during his initial days there. Frances O'Conner makes the journey from disconnected pill-popper to reconnected mother believable.

Out of all the fine actors in the film, the two best may just be the ones portraying the children. It is not easy to play a mute because body language and facial expressions are the only thing that can convey emotion. Young Finn Woodlock does an admirable job as the mute son while Morgana Davies says enough for the both of them. Her potty-mouthed Sass has enough spunk to fill a room and is completely relatable in how she copes with her despondent mother and missing father.

The Hunter is a thriller set against a political clash between environmental foes. It could have gone the preachy route but wisely steers clear of lecturing. There is no political lesson here. Instead, the film shows raw emotion and how quickly people can change when put in the right environment. Whether the change is permanent or not is the real question of the movie, and it is answered brilliantly.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars