Movie Review: “The Hunter” – Breaking Barriers In Tasmania

Written by Matthew da Silva June 12, 2012

Shrouded in mystery in the foliage of the Tasmanian wilderness, interest in the Tasmanian tiger continues through unconfirmed reports and sightings since the last known tiger died in captivity in 1936. Mirroring these elusive sightings is an actor rarely seen in the leading spot and finally being placed as the focus, is a weathered yet experienced Willem Dafoe.

Lonely Dafoe

“The Hunter” centers on Martin David (Dafoe), a mercenary posing as a university scientist who is sent to Tasmania by the mysterious Red Leaf, a military biotech company that employs his expertise to track down the mythologized Tasmanian tiger for the purpose of studying its DNA and biological properties. Upon his arrival, David instantly finds himself in the middle of an environmentally charged debacle, garnering hostility from the abundant loggers in the small town that he finds himself in.

Martin’s shady profession has left him in isolation from human interaction for most of his career, and Dafoe’s subdued acting displays the difficulty his character faces in dealing with the unexpected hostility. You get a sense that Martin is more comfortable in the thick of the dangerous Tasmanian forest, his quiet routine consisting of setting up equipment and doing the contracted task at hand, acting as solace from the menacing loggers.

Walls Fall Down

While the menacing loggers may pose as a threat, their hostility is still not imposing enough to break down Martin’s carefully guarded isolating defenses. His barriers begin to falter while staying with a broken family in a remote cabin outside of the town, where the innocence of two children raised without any parents inadvertently forces Martin to fill the role of the father figure during his stay.

Normally, children in films tend to plague the progression of the adult characters, burdening development with their naivety and immaturity that often place adult characters at compromising positions that would not have occurred had it not been for their presence. In “The Hunter”, the children break away from their burdening archetype, exhibiting a high level of maturity obtained by growing up on their own; their father never returned from the forest a year prior to Martin’s arrival, leaving their mother in a prescription drug fueled haze and bedridden. The performances by the two children are standouts in the film, with the young Sass, (Morgana Davies) breaking down Martin’s barriers with her sharp, inquisitive confidence that Martin cannot help but be influenced by. Her mute younger brother Bike (Finn Woodlock) makes up for his silence through his communicative facial expressions, bringing forth rare emotion from the repressed Martin.

Tourism Tasmania

Shot entirely in Tasmania, the country’s landscape is featured prominently in the film, acting as a member of the supporting cast whose shadowy, misty visuals mirror Martin’s veiled personality. The cinematography captures the vast expanse of the Tasmanian forest similar to how “The Lord Of The Rings” films highlighted the beauty of New Zealand’s terrain.

Where New Zealand was featured as a backdrop to the storyline of “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy, Tasmania is directly immersed in the development of Martin and the task at hand. The remote landscape places the mythologized breeds of both the Tasmanian tiger and Martin’s bounty hunter at the forefront, its emptiness allowing the viewer to clear the thickets and bush that constantly obscure them.

A Little Bit Too Empty

While Tasmania’s prominence in the film is a major part of Martin’s character development, it is also a drawback to the overall plotline. Heavy focus on the landscape contributed to leaving the film with a number of underdeveloped storylines. Plot points were brought up and then came to a quick close, with little to no explanation as to how that closure was accomplished. The crucial middle ground of these plotlines was instead filled by the constant shots of the landscape, which did not allow the plot to properly develop into a deep and stable storyline.

The quiet remoteness of the forest and the extensive scenes of silence or no dialogue made the film feel like a two and a half hour movie rather than its hour and a half run time. More emphasis on the plotline and less on the scenery would have benefitted the film overall, adding much needed depth to the film’s rushed conclusion.

The Resurgence Of The Tasmanian Tiger?

Aside from its drawbacks, the films interesting premise does a fine job of featuring the mystery behind the disappearance of the Tasmanian tiger. Often attributed to widespread logging in Tasmania, director Daniel Nettheim does well in not shoving an overt environmentally charged message down our throats, but rather uses the Tasmanian tiger’s disappearance to show us how the progress of humanity has both allowed for many new opportunities and unfortunately burned other bridges as well. If you’re a fan of Willem Dafoe be sure to check out the film, though you may need to head to the theatre equipped with some coffee to keep you alert for the films duration.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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