After sketchy reports of sightings of a live Tasmanian tiger, a creature long thought extinct, a ruthless global biotech corporation hires enigmatic mercenary Martin (Willem Dafoe) on a mission to track down the fabled beast, kill it and return with skin, blood and organic samples that will allow the company to make millions from the harvesting and patenting of its DNA.
sketchy reports of sightings of a live Tasmanian tiger, a creature long thought
extinct, a ruthless global biotech corporation hires enigmatic mercenary Martin
(Willem Dafoe) on a mission to track down the fabled beast, kill it and return
with skin, blood and organic samples that will allow the company to make
millions from the harvesting and patenting of its DNA.
Posing as a scientist, Martin arrives in Tasmania where
local farmer and company employee Jack Mindy (Sam Neill) arranges for him to stay at the run-down, dilapidated
farmhouse of missing eco-warrior Jarrah who disappeared in mysterious
circumstances the year before leaving behind catatonically depressed wife Lucy
(Frances O’Conner) and feral
children Sass (Morgana Davies) and
Bike (Finn Woodlock). Shaking Lucy out of her depression and
bonding with the children awakens Martin’s buried humanity but his forays into
the rainforest attracts the threatening enmity of the local loggers who may
have been responsible for Jarrah’s sudden disappearance and are determined to
run Martin out of town. However,
his relationship with Lucy and the children also raises the ire of the
ever-watchful, over-protective Mindy.
Increasingly suspicious about Jarrah’s disappearance and
suspecting he may not be the first outsider to search for the elusive tiger,
Martin ventures deep into the Bush, slowly coming to realise that the hunter
may have become the hunted.
Based on a novel by Julia
Leigh, writer/director of last year’s Sleeping
Beauty, The Hunter is a slow-burning, measured allegorical tale, a
Martin’s not just hunting the tiger; he’s hunting his own humanity,
searching for a connection, a measure of redemption, a reason to live. His journey from rugged, closed-off individualist
to hesitant surrogate father is entirely predictable yet satisfying. Whether in his room listening to opera
and cleaning his gun or alone in the forest, laying traps and searching for a
mythical animal, Martin exists in isolation, disconnected emotionally and
physically from the world around him.
His slow humanisation, not his mission, is what the film is about.
Dafoe is perfect in the role; tough but vulnerable, his
increasingly craggy features as rugged and unknowable as the landscape he searches. While his scenes alone in the
wilderness have the haunting poetry of Malick about them it’s in the scenes
with Lucy’s children, particularly the foulmouthed livewire Sass (the excellent
Morgana Davies) that the film comes to life, allowing Dafoe to show the
tenderness and vulnerability that makes him such a compelling performer.
Despite trying to pack in so many plot threads it’s
impossible to do justice to any of them (man-versus-nature, hunter and hunted,
conspiracy thriller, mystery, family drama) and at times so ambiguous it verges
on the opaque, The Hunter is as
satisfying as it is frustrating, a dark, haunting metaphor of self discovery.