directed by Daniel Nettheim
Much like Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, Daniel Nettheim finds the richest elements of his film The Hunter in the natural mystique of a transfixing landscape (Tasmania, in this case) and the isolated magnetism of a stoic survivor (the exquisitely talented Willem Dafoe). Dafoe is excellently muted as Martin, a kind of mercenary hired by a vague and shadowy pharmaceutical company to obtain the genetic material from a Tasmanian Tiger, widely presumed to be extinct since the late 1930s. The tiger itself is something of a legend, a victim of the bloodlust and overhunting that killed it off, though sightings persist to this day. The true versus plot elements of this are neither here nor there, for when Dafoe is alone in the wild, stalking his spectral prey with his quiet sense of protocol and deliberate calm, The Hunter is hypnotic. To serve as a type of base camp, Martin rents a room in the Armstrong house, bereft of a Mr. Armstrong for nearly a year (he went into the mountains and never came out). Things get muddled when life gets in the way, but Sam Neill is spectacular as Jack Mindy, a man watching over the Armstrong family after Mr. Armstrong went missing. Though Mindy’s intentions seem acrimonious (his constant supply of pills that keep wife Lucy Armstrong passed out in bed; his disdain for Martin), his presence seems to somehow keep the monsters of the town at bay. The locals dislike the Armstrongs about as much as they do Martin, perceiving his presence as an extension of preservationist roadblocking that is costing local jobs. While this volatility does set up a bit of tension for Martin, much of it works as a speedbump that continually slows what is otherwise a haunting filmic vehicle. The Hunter is at times a stellar survival film, a kind of Hemingway-esque portrait of a lone soul ever searching for that which might bring him peace. The problem is that the choppy narrative (I felt like Dafoe was doomed to traverse his Promethean circuit up and down that mountain for all eternity) makes it difficult to stay enthralled in the film’s high points. Well worth a watch, though.