A Tassie movie that finally gets it right
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.