The Hunter

21 Nov

Director: Daniel Nettheim

Writers: Julia Leigh (novel), Wain Fimeri (original adaptation)

Stars: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Morgana Davies

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 102 minutes

This film is labelled as an eco-thriller and it is set in Tasmania. Those are two fairly unusual elements and a fine combination that ably support the story (from the popular novel by Julia Leigh). With the increase in awareness and interest of ecological issues I am sure that we shall see more ‘eco films’ and this one is a solid benchmark for them.

Willem Dafoe is a mercenary hired by a biotech company to hunt down and kill a wild animal. The company has evidence that the legendary, and assumed extinct, Tasmanian Tiger is still alive and inhabiting a mountain range on its namesake island. Dafoe is contracted to hunt, kill and to draw samples from the animal (as the biotech firm believes that the DNA is invaluable). Whilst Dafoe prepares for the hunt he comes into contact with a widow and her two children and with both sides of the ecological debate – with the loggers working in the local mountains and with the activists trying to shut them down.

The upfront eco argument here concerns the balance of forestry jobs and nature preservation. Behind that is a wider and deeper issue of species obliteration in the face of big business. The Tasmanian Tiger could in essence be replaced by the white rhino or the sea turtle. Amidst the arguments and emotions Dafoe’s character tries to remain impassive and focused on his task at hand. That focus is shaken by his burgeoning relationship with Frances O’Connor as the widow and with her two children (Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock).

Watching Willem Dafoe act is fascinating. Just like Joaquin Phoenix, there is a constant edginess and unpredictability to his craft. That edge fits his character perfectly in this film and Dafoe is really on form. He is ably supported by O’Connor, Davies and newcomer Woodlock. Scenes with the four of them as an impromptu and awkward ‘family’ work very well. The wild and untamed Tasmanian mountains are also beautifully shot. Unfortunately, I still have problems with the film. However worthy it might be the film is too slow and not nearly as gripping as it could be. It is a decent eco-thriller that is heavy on the eco, but light on the thrills.

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