“The Hunter” stars Willem Dafoe as a mercenary hunter who gets retained to do a highly sensitive mission for a biotechnology corporation. He’s to travel to Tasmania and investigate a recent sighting of a Tasmanian tiger, an animal thought to be extinct. Should he find the tiger, he’s to kill it and bring back its DNA to the company.
Under the cover story of being a university professor, Dafoe obtains lodging with a local family and begins his forays into the wilderness. He faces staunch opposition from the locals – even threats. But the biggest challenge he faces is the truth.
When he eventually closes in on his prey, will he still be willing to see the assignment through?
“The Hunter” is a very quiet movie, but with a layer of tension just beneath the surface.
And that needs to be credited to Willem Dafoe.
As “Martin”, Dafoe gets to be onscreen in pretty much every moment of the movie, often alone in the wilderness for long stretches of screen time. But Dafoe is the type of actor who can make such scenes very compelling. even with no other actors to play off of.
After accepting the assignment to hunt the rare tiger (it’s more of a dingo sized animal), he travels to Tasmania and takes lodging with a family whose father has recently disappeared. It’s quickly apparent that he’d like to be more standoffish than the children allow, but the young girl is quite precocious. Her brother, however, doesn’t speak at all. At the outset of the film, the children are free to accost him unattended, as the mother (Frances O’Connor) is bedridden with depression. Martin’s presence reinvigorates her, though, and before you know it she’s back on her feet and sharing a connection with him.
From that base of operations, Martin takes to the wilds, ranging far and wide, setting traps and scanning for signs of the elusive creature. Guided initially by a local (Sam Neill), Martin spends long stretches out in the wilderness by himself, searching grid by grid. The locals are suspicious of him and his mission, and he begins to face rising opposition from them, from petty vandalism to outright threats.
The biggest threat of all, though, is his own employer. Martin begins to connect the dots between the corporation that hired him and the missing father of the family he’s staying with, and thus… he becomes a liability.
“The Hunter” is a really well put together small budget film. It’s an Australian film, directed by Daniel Nettheim, who does an excellent job of capturing the beauty of the environment as Dafoe treks through it on his quest. He also strikes a very thoughtful balance between the interpersonal relationships that Dafoe’s character develops with the family and the solitary nature of the work the character undertakes. There’s plenty of quiet marches through the forrest, examining tracks and setting traps, and then when he returns to the home, he has to deal with a tenative bond he’s forming with these people. All the while, the mystery surrounding the father’s disappearance, the hostility of the over-protective locals, and the tension of the hunt itself all combine to provide the perfect slow burn simmer to this movie.