SXSW FILM 2012
By Linc Leifeste | March 15, 2012
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Writers: Julia Leigh (novel), Alice Addison (screenplay), Wain Fimeri (original adaptation)
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Sam Neill, Callan Mulvey, Morgana Davies, Finn Woodlock
Based on a novel by Julia Leigh, The Hunter centers around the search for a creature long believed extinct, the Tasmanian Tiger, and draws much of its power and mystique from the idea of a creature only recently hunted to extinction and the eternal human longing to somehow undo the damage that has been done. The inclusion of powerful and haunting footage from 1936 of the last known surviving Tiger packs an emotional wallop, only helping to make the role of the elusive Tiger every bit as striking and essential as the solid performances of the actors involved with the film.
A spare male existential reflection, The Hunter is slowly paced and brilliantly cast. Willem Dafoe inhabits the character of enigmatic Martin David, a mercenary on assignment from an equally mysterious biotech firm, tasked with the mission of trying to track down a rumored surviving Tasmanian Tiger in the rugged wilds of the southern Tasmanian forests. There have been sightings of the Tiger and if it exists Martin is to find it and harvest it, collecting DNA samples to turn over to his corporate sponsors.
Arriving in Tasmania in the guise of a university researcher studying Tasmanian Devils, David’s daunting task is further complicated when he finds himself in the middle of an ongoing feud between environmental activists and logging interests in a place where outsiders are unwelcome and their motivations are immediately suspect. With the assistance of local guide Jack Mindy (Sam Neill), David’s rented base of operations is in the home of a family in crisis. Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor) is lost in depression, constantly self-medicated and unable to leave her bed, the result of having her husband go missing months earlier (presumably the victim of foul play due to his role in fighting the logging interests), leaving their two young children, Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock), to their own devices.
The relationship between David and the Armstrong family, with his naturally being latched onto as something of a surrogate father and husband, is well developed. His reclusive and necessarily guarded nature is soon at odds with the bonds that are developing. While not all is peaceful at the Armstrong household, with threats of violence still looming from local loggers and with Jack Mindy being an intrusive and possibly malevolent presence, these domestic scenes serve as welcome changes of pace from the hunter’s repeat solitary trips to the forest in search of the Tasmanian Tiger.
It is in David’s time in the Tasmanian wild that The Hunter truly shines. The cinematography by Richard Humphreys effectively captures both the rugged beauty of the surroundings and the romantic appeal of a lone man’s travails therein. There is a beauty and poetic rhythm captured in the silent scenes of David setting his iron traps and hunting for his food. The film does not shy away from the brutal and graphic in the story, managing to somehow even capture a rugged beauty in David’s field-dressing of a kangaroo.
To say more about the plot would be to reveal too much but this is an original story that leaves the viewer guessing down to the very end. While the pacing will undoubtedly be too slow for some, the combination of a solid plot with both human elements and just a touch of a thriller component, intertwined with the gorgeous cinematography and Willem Dafoe’s powerful presence, insured that The Hunter was a film that haunted my thoughts for days after seeing it unfold on the screen.