One of Australia’s most acclaimed films of 2011 has finally been released here in the states through iTunes and VOD. The Hunter more than lives up to the acclaim it has received with a minimalist approach to filmmaking and a powerhouse performance from Willem Dafoe.
The Hunter follows Martin David (Willem Dafoe), a mercenary, as he is sent to Tasmania to hunt down the last Tasmanian tiger. The film is directed by Daniel Nettheim and written by Alice Addison from a novel by Julia Leigh. The interesting thing to note about these two is that both have experience in only television. Yet from the work done in this film, you would never be able to tell that. This seems like the furthest thing from a tv movie, and Nettheim never falls into any novice mistakes with his direction. Sure it’s a laid back approach to directing, but there is a distinct visual style on display here that would not be found in a tv movie.
The one major problem with the film is Alice Addison’s attempt to include a few conspiracy theories into the mix. Daniel Nettheim portrays the wilderness with such beauty that all you want to do is remain in that setting, but the screenplay includes two storylines (one with Martin David’s company and another with the local villagers). With some better writing, these two storylines could have felt necessary. The conspiracy surrounding Martin David’s company ultimately finds a satisfying endpoint, but it is brutal getting there as not much attention is given to it. It just feels like an afterthought until it becomes the major plot point at the end. The storyline with the villagers comes across as far worse. All of the characters come across as paper-thin and the film never explains the involvement of the one character with any depth (Sam Neill’s jack Mindy).
Luckily, the main focus of this film is not the screenplay. It is Willem Dafoe’s marvelous performance. Dafoe has always chosen interesting films to work on, but this one may be his best choice yet as it puts him front and center. Dafoe is able to hold the viewer’s attention with what seems like mundane actions (setting traps in the wilderness, staying still in order to attract animals, etc.), and that is a skill that only a few actors have. None of the supporting cast comes close to this performance, but Sam Neill delivers one of his better performances in recent memory despite playing a type of character that he normally plays. There seems to be some extra dimensions to his character this time around despite his motives never being revealed. Frances O’Connor has some good moments (especially in the second half), but her character and performance are ultimately unmemorable. The best performance in the supporting cast might belong to the child actor, Morgana Davies. She has the most personality among all the characters in the film and never comes across as annoying like so many child performances do.
While the film would have benefited with a tighter screenplay, Willem Dafoe makes The Hunteran intense and interesting film.