Hunter_ver3

 

Australia 2011

Director: Daniel Nettheim

102 minutes

 

The landscape of the Australian outback has contributed to many cinematic gems, such as Walkabout, Wake in Fright, and the Mad Max series. Based on a novel by Julia Leigh, Daniel Nettheim’s The Hunter adds to this trove of fine Australian landscape movies, only this time we are not in the outback but the forests and mountains of Tasmania. The action starts, however, in a lounge at Paris Orly airport, where Willem Dafoe’s Martin, some kind of mercenary hunter, is being briefed by the representative of a shadowy biotech company. His task is to find and kill the last Tasmanian tiger, bring back vital samples of blood, tissue, and organs, but to dispose of the carcass so that it will never be found.

Arriving in Tasmania, Martin takes accommodation at the home of the Armstrong family. However, Jarrah Armstrong, a scientist and an environmental activist, has long been missing in the wilds. His wife, Lucy (Frances O’Connor), spends most of her time in bed, dosed up on all manner of medication that is brought in by the rather ambiguous figure of Jack (Sam Neill), who lives nearby. Martin’s initial interactions are with Lucy’s children, nicknamed “Sass” and “Bike” (Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock). Martin tells Jack and the children that he is a university researcher investigating the Tasmanian Devil.

At the local bar, Martin meets a group of loggers who make it clear that newcomers are not welcome. After his first day in the hills Martin discovers that his vehicle has been vandalised. Later, after Martin has managed to cure Lucy of her drug dependency, the loggers return to threaten the Armstrongs and their friends, who have been celebrating a ban on logging. Although Martin continues to pose as a university researcher, the young boy Bike seems to intuit that he is searching for the tiger. Bike gives him clues as to where the tiger might be which, after a while, Martin starts to take seriously. But why does Bike know where the tiger can be found?

The Hunter is possibly not a film for those who like their action fast: there are various scenes of Martin tracking carefully through the wilds, setting traps, waiting, and looking thoughtful. However, throughout the entire film there is always a palpable sense of underlying menace, and eventually this menace takes physical form. Dafoe is utterly convincing as Martin, the hunter. He looks suitably tough, a man who can handle himself when alone in the wild, but who can also stand up to human adversaries. Despite this, Martin also seems to be quite cultured. Early on we seem him luxuriating in a nice bath whilst listening to opera. When he arrives at the Armstrongs’ home, he is clearly perturbed at the filthy bathtub he is presented with, as well as the lack of hot water. He fixes the broken generator in order that he can get hot water and also power up his computer. The difficult task of mending the generator gives him the opportunity to bond a little with Bike, who rarely speaks. As he spends time with the Armstrongs, Martin’s character softens and becomes more likeable. We are left to wonder if he will find the tiger and, if so, whether he will really kill it. How will we feel about him if he does?

This is a very effective slow-burn thriller that also delivers an ecological message, but without ramming it down the audience’s throats. If you didn’t see it on release it is well worth searching out.

Rating: 8/10

 

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