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Review: The Hunter

Amanda Yap

Tue Sep 27 2011

Willem Dafoe and Frances O’Connor in The Hunter. Photo by Matt Nettheim.

DIRECTOR Daniel Nettheim and producer Vincent Sheehan have managed to make a compelling film from the pages of critically acclaimed Australian writer Julia Leigh’s debut novel The Hunter.

The Hunter (not to be confused with the 2010 German film of the same name) wastes no time, delving into the main plot-line quickly. Protagonist Martin David (Willem Dafoe), a curt mercenary, is hired by a mysterious biotech company named Red Leaf, and sent to the Tasmanian wilderness to hunt for the last Tasmanian tiger.

Posing as a university scholar intent upon studying Tasmanian devils in their natural habitat, Martin soon arrives at his lodging in Tasmania – a room in a wooden cabin with Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor) and her children Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock). Lucy is depressed following the mysterious disappearance of her husband Jared. The outspoken Sass somewhat steals the show at this point with amusing comments about Martin’s affinity for classical music, and noticeably poses as a significant contrast to her silent, withdrawn younger brother.


What ensues is a meeting between Martin and Jack Mindy (Sam Neill), a blokey man who seems to know the family quite well. Martin accepts Jack’s offer to guide him to his destination, but upon arrival, Martin sends Jack off with the insistence that he prefers to work alone.

We see Martin exploring the land, stopping only to obtain bait and set numerous traps, to collect water and to rest. Though those with no patience for the National Geographic Channel may find it all rather dull, brilliant cinematography has been used to capture the sights and sounds of the gorgeous Tasmanian wilderness. There are also a a couple of rather exciting moments where the native Tasmanian devils scurry out onscreen, but animal-lovers would probably be well advised to skip this film altogether – some ruthless and graphic animal killings do occur.

As far as films of this nature go, The Hunter is very well-paced overall. The lengthy hunting scenes are nicely interspersed with Martin’s interaction with Lucy and her children when he goes back to the cabin from time to time – including a particularly memorable, bittersweet scene in which Martin gets the old power-generator going and celebrates with the kids.

It is no surprise that with each visit Martin further develops the relationship he has with the kids. He soon realises the reserved Bike may know more about the location of the Tasmanian tiger than it appears on the surface. It also become obvious there is a really dodgy mystery surrounding the missing Jared Armstrong and his own dealings with Red Leaf, and Jack Mindy seems to become increasingly suspicious of Martin’s real motive for being in Tasmania.

This dramatic Australian film explores themes from animal rights and ecology to greed and relationships. It may lack quantifiable action as a whole, but it makes up for it in its final stages as an unexpected and shocking turn of events unfold, and the film leaves you pondering its final, emotionally powerful scene.

It is evident that considerable work went into picking The Hunter‘s cast. It is truly difficult to find fault with Willem Defoe (most will probably recognise him as the Green Goblin from the Spiderman film franchise), and young actors Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock really shine in their roles.

The Hunter is showing at Nova Cinemas, Lygon Court, from October 6.