The Hunter

Director: Daniel Nettheim
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O'Connor and Sam Neill
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Runtime: 102 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Coarse language

Screen Tasmania is not a title we see all that often in a film’s credits. But, here it is and Tasmania is definitely to the fore.

First of all, the scenery must be noted. The Tasmanian wilderness looks beautifully rugged and we are treated to a great deal of it. Secondly, the Tasmanian issue must be noted. The Tasmanian Tiger.

We have heard stories of the Tasmanian Tiger, the Tasmanian ‘Devil’, and its extinction. There have been rumours over the decades of sightings. The Hunter takes up the possibility of their not dying out. A multinational drug company is eager to find the animal to extract fluids which may have beneficial results for health but even more beneficial financial results. They hire hunters to go into the mountains to secretly track the animal. We learn that the company is quite ruthless in its ambitions.

Willem Dafoe is the hunter whose quest we share. Dafoe has been a strong screen presence for over a quarter of a century and communicates tough earnestness in this kind of role. His rugged face draws attention and his capacity for communicating an inner life are a great advantage since so much of the film concentrates on him and his roaming the mountains, searching lakes and caves, setting traps, confronting industrial spies and coming to terms with the moral issues which underlie his pursuing the tiger.

Frances O’Connor is the wife of an environmentalist who has disappeared in the mountains. She offers hospitality to the hunter who also gets on well with her two children. Morgana Davies, who was so strong a presence in The Tree, proves she can hold her own with adult actors here. Sam Neill is a local who is commissioned to help the hunter but who has a much more ambiguous role in the community where loggers are put off work and where environmentalists celebrate nature and irk the workers.

The plot is not always as predictable as might have been first thought. The screenplay is based on a story by Julia Leigh (Sleeping Beauty), using the basic plot but developing and adding many strands to make the drama stronger.

Often lower-key than might be expected, it is an effective small film with strong characters and significant issues. Is extinction preferable to exploitation?

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