Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David Nettheim
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Sam Neill, Morgana Davies.
The Hunter is a character driven drama set against the majestic backdrop of Tasmania’s wilderness forests.
Martin David (Willem Dafoe) is a mysterious mercenary who is sent to Tasmania by Redleaf, a biotech company, to capture a Tasmanian tiger. Although long thought to have been extinct there have been recent sightings, and David is supposed to capture one and bring DNA samples back home to be cloned. David’s mission is complicated when he meets the emotionally damaged Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor) and her two children. Lucy is still distraught over the mysterious disappearance of her husband several months earlier.
The growing connection between the hunter, an outsider, and the lonely family provides some of the drama here. The hunt for the Tasmanian tiger is really a catalyst for the emotional journey that the characters go on, but the myth is very resonant throughout the film.
The Hunter is an adaptation of the novel written by Julia Leigh, who earlier this year divided audiences with her own controversial film Sleeping Beauty. Screenwriter Alice Addison, better known for her television work, does her best to flesh out Leigh’s thin premise, and The Hunter is a lot more accessible. The film deals with universal themes, like the human condition, greed, environmental concerns, family, loss, and community. Thematically it also ties into that relationship between mankind and the natural environment, the kind of uneasy relationship that has always existed between the two elements.
A lot of the drama of the novel takes place inside the central character’s head, but director David Nettheim has opened it up to add more tension and conflict. In particular the locals who rely on the logging industry for their livelihood are hostile and vaguely menacing. Despite the fact that most of the action occurs outdoors, there is still a pervasive and claustrophobic tension. The film was shot on location amongst the magnificent wilderness forests of Tasmania, and veteran cinematographer Robert Humphreys captures the harsh beauty of the setting. His gorgeous widescreen cinematography makes the landscapes a character in the drama. It seems almost impossible to make a visually dull looking film here.
A veteran of television series such as Rush, Spirited, etc, Nettheim maintains a deliberately leisurely pace, and his subtle, understated approach allows audiences plenty of time to absorb the film’s surface beauty.
Dafoe’s performance is largely internal, but he is very good in suggesting the emotional conflict he experiences. He brings gravitas to the role. Sam Neill was not the obvious choice to play the role of the enigmatic, gruff veteran bushman Jack Mindy, but he brings strength to the character. Morgana Davies (from The Tree, etc) has a natural presence as the precocious Sass. O’Connor brings a fragile quality to her role as the psychologically scarred Lucy.
The emotional journey of the central characters and the beauty of the landscapes are enhanced by the marvellous score from composers Andrew Lancaster, Matteo Zingales and Michael Lira.
The Hunter is easily the most visually gorgeous local production of the year, although many in the audience may resist its slow pace and dour nature.