Pray for the prey

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

MER­CE­NARY AND loner Martin (Willem Dafoe) is hired by a sin­is­ter biotech com­pany to travel to Tas­ma­nia in search of a tiger. His pay­mas­ters hope to ex­tract DNA and syn­the­size the anaes­thetic used by the an­i­mal to paral­yse its prey. The mar­su­pial has been pre­sumed ex­tinct since the 1930s, but un­con­firmed sight­ings sug­gest the beast may yet be at large.

In wildest Tas­ma­nia, Martin takes lodg­ings with Lucy (Frances O’Con­nor), a wid­owed mother con­fined to bed with de­pres­sion, and her two adorable, un­kempt young­sters, Sass and Bike.

Out on the trail, lo­cal gruff Jack Mindy (Sam Neill) acts as Martin’s guide, but oth­ers are less wel­com­ing. Bars fall silent as Martin en­ters them. Scary yokels, con­vinced that the Amer­i­can is a “gree­nie” – an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist out to fin­ish the log­ging in­dus­try – give him hell. De­spite their men­ace, Martin, with help from the mute Bike, stum­bles on a pos­si­ble Thy­lacine lair. Sadly, as Martin grows closer to his hosts, Jack grows in­creas­ingly jeal­ous. Is the hunter about to be­come the prey?

A stately, ex­is­ten­tial thriller, The Hunter strad­dles be­tween cin­e­matog­ra­pher Robert Humphreys’s grand, grey, driz­zly tableaux and metaphor­i­cal func­tion. The quest for the tiger, ul­ti­mately, is rather less im­por­tant to the film than Martin’s bur­geon­ing hu­man­ity.

Dafoe is ex­cel­lent, ef­fort­lessly shift­ing from a cold, cal­cu­lat­ing reg­is­ter to fuzzy, parental warmth. An award-win­ning score pro­vides sub­tle com­pli­ment and a per­fect an­ti­dote to the Horner-Zim­mer axis of big­ger, bet­ter, louder mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ments.

Un­hap­pily, if you didn’t know the Aus­tralian film was adapted from Ju­lia Leigh’s novel, you’ll know it by the sec­ond act. The Hunter is sim­ply too em­blem­atic and de­pen­dent on tidy di­chotomies and par­al­lels to have been writ­ten as an orig­i­nal screen­play. The feral crea­ture is a loner, un­seen and un­cor­rupted by hu­man con­tact (get it?). Lucy is in­ca­pac­i­tated by grief just like a Tassie Tiger’s prey might be. The mute boy pro­vides a silent dou­ble for Dafoe’s ret­i­cence.

We could draw a veil over th­ese vis­i­ble plot marks if the fi­nal se­quence weren’t such an unholy, im­plau­si­ble mess. In­ter­est­ing, none­the­less.

Willem Dafoe in The Hunter

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