Under the Radar?: “The Hunter”

“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.

B+

23 thoughts on “Under the Radar?: “The Hunter”

  1. Great review Fogs. I agree with everything you said about Willem Dafoe. He was so good in the role that he makes you forget about the weaker elements of the film (for instance I thought the corporate conspiracy was a bit lackluster). For being a film I have never heard of beforehand this was pretty great.

    • Thanks Ryan!

      Totally a smaller, under the radar type movie… but Dafoe completely carries it. You’re right, the whole Corporation thing towards the end isnt the most fleshed out conspiracy ever or anything, but the movie more than compensates with a super thoughtful tone, I felt.

      Glad you had a chance to check it out…

      • It’s funny that you see the corporate conspiracy element that emerges at the end of the film lackluster or underdeveloped. This whole element of The Hunter was exactly what I was so impressed by. What I saw as the strength here was exactly the fact that it refused turn it into some “grand conspiracy” as so many other movies would have done. It presents us a much more subtle, real-life drama between people and powerful corporations – what they will do, who they are willing to hurt, to get what they are after. It isn’t some elaborate conspiracy as they’re so often overdone in movies. It’s much closer to home, and, for that reason, I found it to be a much more relevant, though extremely subtle, social commentary.

        You could easily, I thought, replace Red Leaf with a corporation like Monsanto, and you would recognize the relevance, and really not see it as far fetched. To me, these subtleties allowed this film to play itself out on numerous levels, crescendoing in a powerful, multi-layered tragedy.

        There are powerful global forces in the world that hold little concern for the particular homes, places and people they may destroy in their operations. This movie exists within that reality, but manages to avoid overstating it. Instead, it gives us a much more tender, human, and honest tale.

      • I’d obvioulsy concur that “There are powerful global forces in the world that hold little concern for the particular homes, places and people they may destroy in their operations”. There’s no question about that in my mind Josh.

        Im not entirely sure if youre speaking to Ryan’s comment there or my response, but I would say there’s a difference in movies between hinting at, sublety, etc and barely including it. It’s been awhile now since I watched this, so it’s not exactly at the tip of my tongue here, but I do recall my thinking at the time that it was almost too quiet for its own good. It still wound up a very good movie, and I recommended it as such… but they keep their cards so close to the vest that it’s almost detrimental. I can picture a lot of people tuning out, calling it boring, etc… (not that I did)

      • I suppose my comment was to both of you, since there seemed to be agreement. Obviously, I only recently watched the movie, so it’s quite fresh on my mind and still holds some emotional sway for me. My only point is that the corporate conspiracy is so “barely included” because it isn’t a corporate conspiracy. It’s business as usual. That people would find this, along with everything else going on in the film, boring, is sad for reasons completely unrelated to the movie for me. It was a very compelling film on its own, and didn’t require a surprising thriller plotline of a corporate conspiracy to give it its worth. I realize I’m tooting my trumpet quite loudly on this point. I was just very surprised at how great a movie it was. If they had amped up the corporate conspiracy element, it would have lost its worth.

        Some viewers are worth losing to boredom, I suppose.

    • It’s a good one Tim. I think an appreciation for willem Dafoe is probably a requisite – I mean, if you dont like HIM, I dont think you’d care for this – but if you enjoy Dafoe, this movie is a nice, safe bet!

  2. Great pick! This is one of the umpteen DVDs I’ve seen in the last 2 weeks. Love Dafoe in general & he really held this movie. Liked the endearing building relationship between he & the children. There was enough tension to keep me interested yet parts were predictable & could have been “more.” Overall though I enjoyed it!

    • UmpTEEN? Wow…. :D

      LOL. Been busy knocking ‘em out, huh? Hope there’s been some good stuff in there mixed in.

      I liked the way the relationship with the family built up, too. It wasn’t your standard sudden romance with the Mom character that Hollywood would usually throw at you.

      You’re right, it could have been “more”, but I wonder if that would have thrown everything all out of whack. I think the flick benefitted from being smaller and quieter. It lent it kind of a pensive air.

      I wonder if being “more” would have upset that benefit….

  3. Nice review there Fogs. I just finished watching this about half an hour ago and starting to put my comments down now. Should have a post ready soon.
    It was a good film but not without it’s flaws.

    • Yeah, it had some issues, sure. But it wasn’t overly ambitious, either, I dont think so as a result I was pretty lenient watching it.

      Glad to hear you enjoyed, I’ll swing through at some point to touch base with what you had to say. :)

  4. Good review Fogs. The film had some issues with its pacing but I think Dafoe is a great presence in every film he does, and just being able to watch him roam around Australia, making traps, and just looking creepy, is a solid time in my book. Neill was also good but his character’s actions seem to get a little fake by the end.

  5. Pingback: The Hunter (2011) Movie Review | Horrorphilia

  6. Pingback: The Hunter works on several levels… « nediunedited

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