Film Review – The Hunter

Title: The Hunter
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Morgana Davies
Release Date: Out Now

Willem Dafoe is one of Hollywood’s most criminally underused assets. For a man that has shown his undeniable skills in the likes of The Last Temptation of Christ, it’s a slight shame he’s more likely to be remembered for his less taxing roles as the bad guy in Spider-Man and Speed 2 (though he was damn good in both). It has been a while since he’s been given meaty roles to display his acting chops and The Hunter steps up to correct this wrongdoing.

Dafoe plays Martin, a jaded hunter who is sent by a faceless corporation to Tasmania to seek out and kill the thought-to-be extinct Tasmanian tiger. Fronting as a scientist, he stays in the lodge of a grieving widow and her two children using it as a central hub for his unspoken assignment. But as the tiger searching continues it becomes clear that certain inhabitants are not too happy with his presence.

What’s hardly surprising is that The Hunter isn’t just about a man searching for a tiger, it’s about a man searching for himself (metaphorically, clearly. Otherwise this would be a very different film). You never learn enough about Martin’s feelings towards his morally questionable mission to properly invest in his growth throughout the film. It’s a testament to Dafoe that he takes a forgettable protagonist and gives this silent antihero depth purely through his fantastically emotive rubbery face. It seems the script is to blame here: many of the side characters are ‘we don’t take kindly to strangers’ stereotypes and others simply wander in to explain plot before seeing themselves out.  Though the actors all give good performances, events seem too convenient and dialogue seems a tad on the nose to ever invest in these characters, making the finale have less impact than it should.

That said the sense of tone is superb. There’s a constant sense of dread as an unseen enemy keeps an eye on Martin, this dread exaggerated by wide shots of a tiny Martin trekking alone across dark expanses and tight, claustrophobic shots of a lone Martin in the mysterious forest. Tasmania’s weather is suitably gloomy, it’s natural wildlife unusual and, in the case of the Tasmanian devil, strangely menacing. This mood hugely adds to the overall sense of unease that no doubt reflects the inner feelings of Martin and without this confident filmmaking the noticeably slow pacing would be tedious rather than a wise artistic choice. The Hunter clearly wants to be a deep psychological investigation, so it’s a shame that these expertly crafted scenes are tainted whenever he bumps into anyone for an unrealistic chat.

There’s a very competent film in here, both the acting and parts of the direction supporting a questionable script. Still, the shortcoming of the script doesn’t destroy the The Hunter; it just sucks the emotional punch out of something that could have been great.

In a Nutshell: A well executed take on familiar territory with a spectacular show from Dafoe.

by Conor Barry