I would have thought that the idea of seeing Willem Dafoe portray a hunter attempting to find the last Tasmanian Tiger was enough to entice anyone to see this film. The premise definitely had me hooked.
From the outset, we’re told that there’s something shady about the whole mission. Martin David (Dafoe) is employed by a mysterious company called Red Leaf to extract DNA samples from Tassie’s favourite cryptid. Upon arrival, he learns about the ongoing tensions between the resident loggers and greenies, and begins to suspect that he may not be the only person trying to track down the elusive beast. To make matters more complicated, he finds himself drawn to the local family he’s staying with.
The Hunter is a visually stunning film. It doesn’t fall into the trap of becoming a tourism commercial, but it does capture the Australian bush beautifully. The cinematography in general, including the up close and personal character moments, is perfect. The score more than equals the visuals. The cues provided by Andrew Lancaster, Michael Lira and Matteo Zingales add to the overall tension and ensure that the pacing never gets too sluggish.
Dafoe is great in the lead role, whilst Frances O’Connor and Sam Neill do equally well in supporting turns. Special mention should be made of child actors Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock, who both deliver the kind of pitch-perfect performances that belie their lack of experience.
The main problem I had with The Hunter is that it couldn’t get comfortably ensconced in a particular genre. The film shifts between thriller and drama, and it might have been better if it had gone for one or the other, rather than straddling both with only a modicum of success. I, for one, wanted a straight thriller, and the film certainly showed potential for this. Unfortunately, the one actioned-packed, high tension moment in the film is flubbed due to either sloppy editing or lack of coverage – we don’t really get an understanding of the geography of the scene, and it’s a missed opportunity.
This encapsulates the entire film, in a way. The Hunter is a solid effort, but fails to be truly brilliant. The final act is frustratingly bleak and unsatisfying, and doesn’t feel justified. Secondary characters are either forgotten or their absence is only casually referred to, which is also disappointing.
If the prospect of seeing Dafoe set traps and lures in an attempt to capture a supposedly extinct species is enough to attract you, then by all means give The Hunter a go. It does deliver on that front. It just wasn’t quite as strong a film as it needed to be.Rating: