The Hunter was a film I began to hear good things about late last spring but was unfortunately unable to find a screening anywhere close to my local area (which happens to be the third largest city in the UK). In the end I probably saved myself a needless trip to the local Art House Cinema as although featuring some decent moments and a good central performance, The Hunter isn’t a film worth writing home about.
A mercenary/hunter (Willem Defoe) is employed by a shady European biotech company to travel to Tasmania and track the illusive, presumed extinct Tasmanian Tiger. The animal, which hasn’t been seen in the wild since 1930 is believed to have had a venom in its bite which was capable of paralysing its prey. The company, Red Leaf, wish to extract that venom for use in their biotechnology business. When he arrives in Tasmania, the hunter stays with a family who have recently experienced loss and attracts the unwanted attention of local loggers who are fearful for their jobs.
The Hunter is set in a beautiful part of the world which I have rarely seen on film before. Tasmania goes against all the stereotypes of what Australia should look like and for me was a breath of fresh air. Defoe’s lodgings reminded me of something you’d see in the likes of Winters Bone but are inhabited by much nicer people and I enjoyed spending time with the Armstrong family with whom Defoe becomes acquainted. The forests and plateau in which the hunter searches for the tiger are stunningly beautiful and if not for some less than inviting locals the film could be used by the Tasmanian Tourist Board.
The plot is fairly engaging and spends around equal time in the wild and at the family cabin. Defoe has a dual role in the film as carer for the family’s two young children and hunter of the tiger. He performs both roles perfectly. A problem with his character though is that the writing gave no indication that he was any better than trackers and hunters who had come before him. Given that he is hunting something as illusive as the Tasmanian Tiger you’d expect him to be a super human hunter, a sort of Bear Grylls meets Rambo, and while it’s obvious he can handle himself in the wild, the character lacks the sort of super human skills and ability which you’d be looking for. Although this helps to ground the character in reality, any other person could have done what he had in the last seventy or so years. The dual nature of the plot though kept me interested and I was just as curious to rediscover the tiger as I was to see how the family got on. I didn’t really see either conclusion coming.
Willem Defoe is on screen for probably around 90% of the time and delivers a characteristically nuanced performance. His face is so full of expression while hardly moving and it is obvious that he has taken the time to learn what he is doing in the bush. From the trailer I was expecting a slightly more frenetic and anxious performance which in the end never materialised but what we got was equally as good. His weathered face perfectly matches his surroundings. In addition to Defoe I also thought that Sam Neill and Frances O’Connor were fine while young Morgana Davis and Finn Woodlock were both excellent.
The Hunter is a slow burner which I’m thinking more of now I’m writing about it than I did while watching and it has a good story and very good performances but there was nothing evident which tipped it towards being any better than just good.