Some mysteries should never be solved.
THE HUNTER (2011) is a film based on a novel by Sleeping Beauty (2011) director Julia Leigh. The tale is about a man hired by a biotech company to find the last Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger. In theory, the tiger supposedly excretes a neurotoxin that would make the company billions. Martin (Willem Dafoe) meets with the mysterious individuals who supplies him with the necessary information on where to go and who to see. When they suggested that he brought along another hunter, he is adamantly against it. He works better alone.
The company set him up in a small cabin owned by Lucy (Frances O’Connor), a former academic and her two children Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock). When he arrives, he finds the two kids practically raising themselves and their mother Lucy in a semi-comatose state, induced by her overuse of sleeping pills. The father went missing some time ago. Martin surfaces into their lives and essentially becomes attached to the family. All the while, the company who hired him are concerned by his lack of progress.
Martin wasn’t welcomed in a small logging town. In between his assigned mission to find a long believed extinct marsupial, the towns loggers are caught between the forest wars–activists or “greenies” who wanted the loggers to be gone–and somehow the loggers believed that Martin was just another scientist there to take away their way of living. Understandably a sensitive issue–these people need jobs, and tempers are at an all-time high.
A skilled predator, Martin spends most of his time in the Tasmanian wilderness setting traps and trekking through the beautiful landscapes. Martin is at his best when he is on the hunt: he skillfully lays traps laced with animal parts to lure the tiger in and was often not successful. Eventually, the biotech company sent out another hunter, and he wound up being the hunted. However, the encounter served more as a distraction than a dramatic plot twist.
The Hunter uses the brilliance of the Tasmanian landscape as a strong dramatic effect. The environment is visually captivating yet unfamiliar–wild, inhospitable and aside from the phenomenal performance by Willem Dafoe is the only captivating aspect about the film. The cinematography is impressive as well as the direction by Nettheim. The search for the Tasmanian tiger was more of a self-reflective journey for Martin, in that he began to care about the family he encountered; he seemed to enjoy being with them more than going on the hunt.
The obvious flaws are nearly impossible to ignore–there truly isn’t the regular dialogue between the films characters. Sam Neill as Jack Mindy, is torn between Martin doing his job and possibly imposing on his potential relationship with Lucy, as well as his relationship with the loggers, who are in conflict with the activist’s efforts to “save the trees.”
Martin is on a journey, and the direction of paring his emotions with the landscape is genius. Martin’s ascension from the forest floors and greenery to the den of the Tasmanian tiger, realizing they were similar; two desolate and wandering beings in the unforgiving vastness of the world. Overall, it was an engagingly beautiful film. If only there were more story and dialogue. It had so much potential and wound up turning into a vividly emotional masterpiece that ended all too soon.