Tiger awak­ens

A Tassie movie that fi­nally gets it right

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

THE Hunter star­ring Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Frances O’Con­nor is uniquely Tas­ma­nian. Di­rec­tor Daniel Net­theim makes full use of the is­land lo­ca­tion and its peo­ple to tell his story.

Dafoe stars as mer­ce­nary Martin David who has been hired by a Euro­pean biotech com­pany to hunt down the last re­main­ing Tas­ma­nian tiger.

The com­pany be­lieves the thy­lacine’s DNA con­tains some­thing that could be com­mer­cially valu­able.

When Martin ar­rives in Tas­ma­nia, he is bil­leted with a fam­ily liv­ing in the bush. As his search for the thy­lacine goes on, he be­gins bond­ing with his hosts.

But he also butts heads with some of the lo­cals and be­comes sus­pi­cious that he is not the only one on the tiger’s trail.

This thriller is based on the novel by Ju­lia Leigh and, un­for­tu­nately, some plot threads seem to have been cut short, es­pe­cially to­wards the end, pos­si­bly to keep the film down to a 101-minute run­ning time. Some of the ves­ti­gial char­ac­ters seem to have been orig­i­nally in­tended to have larger roles in the nar­ra­tive be­fore be­ing edited down to more pe­riph­eral en­ti­ties.

There is also a dis­tinct lack of back­story for Martin, but luck­ily Dafoe takes the man-of-mys­tery thing and runs with it. He makes Martin’s char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment and per­sonal jour­ney per­fectly be­liev­able and meaty, the lack of back­ground mak­ing the char­ac­ter that much more in­trigu­ing.

And this is true of the en­tire film: de­spite the oc­ca­sional thin spot in the script, the strength of the di­rec­tion and act­ing per­for­mances hold the story to­gether to cre­ate a co­he­sive and en­gross­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Dafoe is a charis­matic fo­cus for the story as Martin. He ap­pears in vir­tu­ally ev­ery scene and his per­for­mance car­ries the en­tire film.

He’s a man we know very lit­tle about and through whose for­eign eyes we ex­pe­ri­ence a fa­mil­iar environment.

We learn what kind of man Martin is through his ac­tions and in­ter­ac­tions and how these shift over time, and Dafoe’s in­tense per­for­mance en­sures we al­ways want to know more.

O’Con­nor is also out­stand­ing as the hip­pie-mum Lucy, left to raise her two young chil­dren in a tiny, re­mote com­mu­nity fol­low­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of her en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist hus­band in the same area Martin is pa­trolling.

The chil­dren, Bike ( played by Finn Wood­lock) and Sass ( Mor­gana Davies) are pow­er­ful driv­ers of the story and their ma­ture per­for­mances are a sur­pris­ing con­trast to their ten­der ages.

Neill’s ap­pear­ance as Martin’s lo­cal guide/ con­tact Jack has def­i­nite shades of Tassie’s own tiger-hunter Col Bai­ley, mak­ing him an earthy and very Tas­ma­nian-feel­ing char­ac­ter who makes a big im­pres­sion de­spite lim­ited screen time.

Per­haps the big­gest star of the show is the Tas­ma­nian land­scape – but­ton­grass, rain­for­est and moun­tains – and the breath­tak­ing cin­e­matog­ra­phy shows it off to bril­liant ef­fect.

Filmed en­tirely in Tas­ma­nia, the ex­te­ri­ors were shot mostly at dawn or late af­ter­noon to cap­ture Tas­ma­nia’s low-an­gled, stark sun­light and pale hues. The de­ci­sion to shoot on film adds an al­most painted qual­ity to the land­scape.

The Hunter is a true Tas­ma­nian gothic tale: one man against in­domitable na­ture; the lone form of Martin hik­ing through but­ton­grass plains, vul­ner­a­ble and alone yet strong and de­fi­ant.

The eth­i­cal dilemma of find­ing and killing an an­i­mal that might be the last of its kind, jux­ta­posed with the film’s por­trayal of our con­tro­ver­sial log­ging in­dus­try, raises in­ter­est­ing is­sues of post-colo­nial guilt and our dam­ag­ing im­pact on the environment.

The story takes a lit­tle while to get mov­ing but once it does, the pace is brisk enough to keep you watch­ing. There’s just enough ac­tion to spur it along when needed and plenty of in­trigue to keep you try­ing to guess where it’s headed.

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