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Possibly one of the more low key releases, but non the less important releases of last year, "The Hunter" is a film much like "Lost In Translation" in the fact that it is hard to make sound appealing and a film which it would seem that director Daniel Nettheim has taken the most cue's from as he crafts a simple plotted but none the less engaging film, which seeing Martin (Willem Dafoe) a mercenary hired by the biotech company called Red Leaf to hunt down and recover tissue and organ samples of the Tasmanian Tiger, which has long since thought to be extinct. Arriving in Tasmania under the alias of a university professor, he sets up a temporary residence with single mother Lucy (Frances O'Connor) and her two young and seemingly feral children Sass (Morgana Davies) and the mute Bike (Finn Woodlock), whose father disappeared in the wilderness eight months previous hunting for the same Tasmanian Tiger which Martin seeks.
Based on the book of the same name by Julia Leigh, it is far from being one the most action packed films of the year, but at the same time it is far from boring as we follow Martin on his quest for the elusive tiger. From the start its clear that he is a man who seems most happy when he is isolated from the rest of humanity as seem in the opening, as he complains about being kept waiting in his hotel room and despite being in Paris, he cares little sight seeing while clearly having long since grown used to a life on the road as shown by how he sets out his personal effects in his hotel room.
Still despite this solitary existence he has chosen for himself, it is also clear he was not prepared for some of the aspects of this latest assignment, as he is left horrified by the rundown condition of his latest dwellings which inturn soon has him running for the local inn seeking alternative accommodation. Meanwhile the locals are less than welcoming, as they associate him with the local environmentalists or "greenies" whose current protests currently threaten the livelihood of the local loggers, who in turn ensure that the threat of violence is never far away, even more so when they are potentially linked with the disappearance of Sass and Bike's father. Realising that he has little choice but to stay at his original accommodation, he soon finds himself bonding with his host family in particular the children whose fathers disappearance has sent their mother into a medicated downward spiral leaving them with almost no adult supervision outside of the occasional visit from the local guide Jack (Sam Neill), who is from the start and throughout especially suspicious of Martin, especially with his loyalties being seemingly divided between both the environmentalists and loggers.
It is only when Martin sets out into the Tasmanian wilderness that the film really is at its best, let alone most stunning as panoramic shots and extensive helicopter footage add to the sense of isolation, especially with the shots of Martin walking across the plains with nothing but wilderness and harsh terrain in seemingly all directions. This sense of how remote this territory only further reinforced when Jack points out during Martins first trek that most of the surrounding land hasn't even been mapped outside of satellite imagery. It is also during these treks that Martins real skills are showcased as despite his desire to surround himself with the comforts of modern technology at the home, out here when at his most focused on his mission he takes on what could almost be seen as a complete personality shift, as he is shown as an expert in tracking, setting traps and surviving on backwoods skills, all believably portrayed by Defoe who worked with bush survival experts to prepare for the role, which clearly pays off here as he once more truly embodies the character of Martin.
During the treks the film provides most of it's drama, not only with the hunt and the excitement of the smallest of clues that Martin is on the right path, but also from the fact that it frequently alluded to that he is never quite alone, with the discovery of additional traps and warning shot only furthering his paranoia, especially when he can't be sure if he himself is being tracked by the loggers or even his own employers, even more so when he starts finding clues to what really happened to Sass and Bike's father. This tension is expertly cranked up as the film progresses, with small details and events rather than sudden surprise twists, but none the less effective as the audience's attention is firmly held by director Nettheim, even when it is essentially just Martin wondering around the dense woods and rocky mountains. What is especially interesting is noticeable lack of voice over which I'd expected during Martin's treks, especially with him traveling alone Nettheim instead opts to shoot these scenes in eerie silence and only a spattering of minimalist soundtrack, as any internal monologue is left to be played out by Martin's actions.
In between his treks Martin slowly brings order to the Armstrong house, as his bond only grows with the family, forcing Lucy to kick her addiction to prescription meds, while repairing the generator which like the rest of the house has long since fallen into disrepair, while also building a bond with the mute Bike, who may hold the secret to the whereabouts of the elusive tiger, while the family themselves slowly begin to provide Martin with a purpose outside of his work, while providing the film with many of it's simpler moments of pleasure such as when Martin fixes the speakers hung in the tree and floods the surrounding area with the sounds of his favourite opera, to the ecstatic excitement of the family.
True this might not be the most action packed movie, but it is absolutely stunning to watch, with the human drama and the power of one man's obsession and his humanity being restored is griping enough without feeling the up the action quota, as director Nettheim proves perfectly here that in this case certainly that less is certainly more.
Star - Willem Dafoe
Genre - Action
County - Australia
Certificate - 12
Run Time - 102 minutes
Blockbusters - £3.50 per night
Amazon - £10.00 DVD (£13.00Blue Ray)
The Hunter is the most unexpected treat of the year for me. I didn't know much about it until it turned up in Blockbusters but I like Willem Dafoe and the Australian film themes on offer here and with an interesting actor like him you know you're going to get it a decent movie when he is playing serious. He is not one of those actors that do loads of dreadful romcoms and comedies to pay the mortgages on their huge houses in the Hollywood Hills although his unusual look means he can never really be that leading man. He is really cool in another recent Aussie film called Daybreakers.
The Hunter is based on the popular Australian book of the same name about the fictional hunt for the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger, a dingo like creature with Tiger stripes on its lower back. Its a real animal as we get to see flickery black & white footage of one of the beasts in a Tasmanian farmers pen back in 1927, the last recorded sighting, the animal hunted down to the final few pairs after the war for being a pest to commercial farm animals.
The themes of the book marry the loneliness of our hunter and the creature in question, both a dying breed, only one winner if they go head-to-head, best supporting actor in the film being the stunning landscapes of Tasmania. The eclectic Aussie island is so cut off from the rest of the world and evolution was at its most vicious here and its still home to seven of the ten world's most venomous snakes. It's a place that hides some rather interesting creatures because of that isolation, the far more common 'Tasmanian Devil' an equally odd looking thing as Willem Dafoe.
Willem Dafoe ... Martin
Frances O'Connor ... Lucy
Sam Neill ... Jack
Morgana Davies ... Sass
Finn Woodlock ... Bike
Jacek Koman ... Middleman
Callan Mulvey ... Rival Hunter
Craggy faced hunter and opera lover Martin Baker (Willem Dafoe), a strong silent type, meets a shady middleman at a modern European airport for his next assignment, offered a substantial sum of money to hunt down the world's rarest living animal, the Tasmanian Tiger. The theory here is there may well be one mating pair left on the Australian island and the animals metabolism highly valued to private bio science companies, the ones putting up the cash.
His contact on Tasmania is a local guide called Jack (Sam Neill), who sets him up with a local hippy family in the woods for his lodgings, the hunter setting out the next day to search the deepest woods were some sightings were made over the years. After 7 days and nights in the forest he returns to the house to refuel, where he befriends the family and offers himself as a reluctant father figure, pretty mom Lucy (Frances O'Connor) depressed and on sleeping tablets after her husband never returned from the forest some three months ago, presumed dead but never spoken of that way. Little daughter Sass (Morgana Davies) is the lady of the house in the interim and little brother Bike (Finn Woodlock) traumatized and mute since his dad disappeared.
His second trip out get results after little Bike reveals dad also went to hunt the Tiger and draws simplistic kid's pictures of where exactly pop went, a big clue for the hunter. But by now tensions are building as guide Jack has an ongoing crush on Lucy and has been distanced from her by Martin becoming the man of the house. The local loggers are also up in arms as the more tree huggers that hang around the area the fewer trees they can cut down and so jobs lost. The only question now is how can Martin combine the roles of looking after the young family and repelling the lumberjacks and still having enough time to hunt the Tiger, the clock ticking as another hunter is lined up if he fails to find it, his employers rather brutal on those who let them down.
With themes of stark loneliness and redemption this beautifully atmospheric thriller is good stuff, one of those movies that quickly wraps itself around you and tells you that you're not going anywhere. You can.t help be drawn to Dafoe's character, electric on screen, only his mannerisms and ticks revealing the plot. Dafoe is perfect for the role and the film probably would have lost something without him. It's the best slice of the rather bloated Deer Hunter meets Mark Walberg's underrated Shooter as the man alone heads into the steamy and spooky woods, gripped vice like by the silence of nature and the repressive mountains that bear down on him.
There is, perhaps, one too many films going on here but you are involved by them all. Trying to force a love story and cute kids into the movie didn't quite work for me but once we are in the silence of the woods and our hunter is pulling back the bolt on the rifle the film picks up again. There is mystery too with the added ingredient of Martins paymasters and why someone would want this animal so bad enough to the point where they may kill somewhat obtuse. But Dafoe somehow pulls all the threads together and weaves an intriguing film that won't let up, right up until the final frames.
It cost $20million US dollars to make and looks great for that and has the classic feel as far as gross goes of a word of mouth winner, doing a decent $176million to date, most of that on DVD. Those are the films you need to checkout. Ok, this is no Shawshank Redemption but that film only did one twentieth of its current gross in the cinema, somewhat of a flop in the multiplexes as it was poorly publicized. Sometime good films sneak out untouched and The Hunter very much in that category and so one you mustn't miss it guys. It's more of a boy's movie but would appeal to most young adults that like to think about their movies, definitely in my top ten of the year.
Imdb.com - 6.8/10.0 (14,250 votes)
Metacritc.com - 63% critic's approval rating
Rottentomatos.com - 68 critic's approval rating
Empire -' If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise, in the form of an elegant genre-hopper coming on like Werner Herzog meets Michael Crighton'
Sydney Herald -'It is dank and clammy, with ice in its heart, but it is also beautiful and painful, its emotional climaxes hitting home like precision bullets
Village Voice - 'The Hunter is too many films in one...'
The Mail on Sunday -'This powerful drama is strongly anchored by Willem Dafoe's nuanced performance as a hard loner who is softened by a vulnerable family who finds a place in his heart'
Movie News - 'Unfocussed and thematically overburdened. More could have been said with less'
The New Yorker - '"The Hunter" is the most intriguing thriller to come along in the first half of 2012. Willem Dafoe continues to showcase why he's one of the best actors today'.
= = = Special Feature = = =
-Interview with Willem Dafoe-
Dafoe is a bit pretentious and method but does pick his movies and so fair play to that. It was either him or Christopher Walken for this one.
-The Making of-
First time film director Daniel Nathanial moves away from TV and talks about his first and excellent movie. He had been planning the film for ten years and it's matured like a good wine.
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