Daniel Nettheim’s The Hunter is an atmospheric vehicle for Willem Dafoe. The film is a slow burner, but one that is rewarding.
Martin David, a mercenary hunter, is hired by a biotech company to search for the last remaining Tasmanian tiger, believed by most to be extinct. Martin searches the wilderness for clues to the animal’s existence and whereabouts. Staying with a family close by, David may be able to ascertain clues from the father’s mysterious disappearance…
Based on the novel by Julia Leigh, The Hunter is a tale steeped in isolation. As such, the film would not work unless the central character was believable and interesting enough. Thankfully, the protagonist in The Hunter sufficiently holds the viewer’s attention. Given that he is a stoic character, there is a sense of mystery in what goes unsaid. Martin’s motives for taking the job, for example, are never really touched upon. Instead, a seemingly one-dimensional desire to complete the mission is clouded by the people he meets. Any change in Martin is entirely convincing, having been set up over the course of the film.
The narrative of The Hunter is carefully crafted. Seemingly disparate worlds are combined in a way that feels plausible. The various threads of the story are neatly tied up, with information disseminating as the plot progresses. There is a current of environmentalism versus capitalism that runs through the film. Sometimes this is laid on thick, but most of the time it works well as a backdrop. Director Nettheim makes the most of the captivating Tasmanian landscapes. The establishing shots and long shots capture the rugged region, and do well to emphasise the sense of isolation.
Willem Dafoe offers a very strong performance as Martin. He is completely believable in the role. Elsewhere, Sam Neill is unrecognisable from his Jurassic Park days as Jack Mindy, while Finn Woodlock is great to watch as young Bike.
The Hunter creeps up on viewers slowly, winning them over with its slowly unfolding narrative and a superb performance by Willem Dafoe.