Movie Review: "The Hunter" by Alex Schopp

Release: 2012
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Written By: Julia Leigh (novel), Wain Fimeri
Actors: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Frances O'Connor
Rated: R
Run Time: 102 min

"The Hunter" tells the story of Martin, a skilled and ruthless mercenary sent into the Tasmanian wilderness on a hunt for a tiger believed to be extinct. Hired by an anonymous company that wants the tiger's genetic material, Martin arrives in Tasmania posing as a scientist. He proceeds to set up base camp at a broken-down farmhouse, where he stays with a family whose father has gone missing. Usually a loner, Martin becomes increasingly close to the family; however, as his attachment to the family grows, Martin is led down a path of unforeseen dangers, complicating his deadly mission.

Right off the bat, this film was perfect for Willem Dafoe. Playing a character who's neurotic, obsessive, a loner - how many times have we seen that performance from him before? And I don't mean that in a negative way at all; while I felt like Dafoe didn't have to stretch too far from some of his previous experiences, he pulled this one off with near perfection. There were a lot of layers to his character, and I would have loved to see more from each one. As we see this hardened, loner of a man venturing out into the wilderness, hunting animals, setting traps and navigating through harsh terrains, I was constantly imagining prequel films where we'd get to discover where this man came from and how he got to be the survivalist that he was. And the beauty here of course, was the sweetness that he had for the woman and children he was staying with on his trip. You imagine that this man hasn't probably been close to anyone for many years, yet he develops a simple and kind relationship with this family. Dafoe did a fantastic job, and seeing as how this character was the central focus of the film, it went a long way in the overall success of the film.

While Dafoe gets the bulk of the screen time, and the film is his to carry, but you have to give major props to the cinematographers and cameramen who helped with this as well. While Martin's personalities are enough to get you in the door, it's the beautiful landscapes and scenery shots of the Outback that make you want to stay. Even in bleak conditions, amongst jagged rocks and harsh snowfalls, everything looks wonderful. I don't want to over-idealize this aspect, but it really was shot wonderfully. With lesser skills coming from these departments, I doubt the film would have been as powerful as it was. On a less technical note, I also quite enjoyed seeing all of the different wildlife roaming around that we're unfamiliar with here in the States. Tigers, Tasmanian devils, kangaroos, and other small marsupials all played roles here, and it was fascinating watching them on screen; they all aided in the overall experience of being a part of this journey.

The downfalls I think the film experienced were mainly just trying to work too many different philosophical plots into the film. None are very pronounced, and it's quite clear that the film is intended to make us think about humanity and loyalties, and I'm sure there are metaphorical similarities between Dafoe's character and the elusive animal he's hunting, but for the most part, it just felt like a bit too much tied into such a minimalistic film. Don't get me wrong, for those of you wanting to take the time to truly dissect the film, I'm sure it's all there to do so. I was just too busy enjoying the scenery of the film and watching Dafoe work to worry too much about all of the underlying tones the film was trying to convey.

I also could have done without some of the various conspiracy issues reoccurring in the film. Whether it between hired hitmen, the locals not wanting foreigners on their land, or rivaling corporations, I just didn't care. Again, it felt almost like the film was trying to force too much in here, and didn't just go with the elements that worked. I know that we needed a tangible conflict in the film, which otherwise was a one-man show, it just felt like most of it was inserted solely for that reason. Sam Neill provided a great performance as one of the locals, and I did enjoy watching him in the film, but otherwise, it just seemed like more wasted time and space.

Overall, the film is quite drab, and doesn't ever play with many emotional extremes. It's very quiet, often going lengthy stretches without any dialogue at all. But while it never hurries to get anywhere, something about the isolation and this character out in the elements is eerily comforting. It doesn't hurt that we're constantly surrounded by gorgeous scenery, but still, this man's journey is enjoyable and interesting to watch. I think as a character study, the film succeeds, even if other aspects of the film get bogged down at times otherwise.

I'd say if you find yourself in the presence of this film, give it a shot. The cinematography alone is worth the experience.