Based on the acclaimed novel by Julia Leigh, The Hunter tells the story of Martin (Willem Dafoe), an American mercenary in search of the last remaining Tasmanian Tiger. Martin is a loner by profession and lifestyle, but as he warms to the family he is staying with, he begins to question his employer’s motives and reposition his own objectives.
The Hunter reminded me of the television series Lost in many different aspects – you have a central character who is isolated from the rest of the world and forced to befriend complete strangers in order to survive (whose pasts are all questionable), and as he explores the beautiful terrain around him, it often feels as though someone or something is lurking just off-camera…
However much like the disappointing finale of Lost, The Hunter also fails to justify the build-up, offering somewhat of an anti-climax that doesn’t really answer all the questions that were raised.
There are many other characters/groups in the film that hint at some sort of conflict for our hero (the loggers, the hippies and his employer) and others that seem to be hiding something of their own (the mother, the missing father or their mysterious neighbour played by Sam Neill) – and yet most of these sub-plots are either tied-off sharply or lost along the way.
Having not read the book myself I can only assume these areas were explained with more detail but still, it probably would have done the source more justice to limit the number of sub-plots included rather than skip over them all so briefly.
On the flip-side, the setting of The Hunter is truly breathtaking. The picturesque scenery is the film’s biggest drawcard – and while it seems they spent more time orchestrating the landscape shots rather than developing the story, this amazing cinematography will hit close to home with many country Australians and certainly impress the overseas markets.
I also loved David Nettheim’s attention to detail and the fact that he avoided all the typical Australian stereotypes that often portray us as jabbering rednecks (thanks Baz Luhrmann). There’s not one single “G’day” or “Crikey” and the boys at the pub drink Tasmania’s own Boag’s Draught, and not Fosters.
Willem Dafoe really holds this piece together. He effortlessly switches from a cold and motivated mercenary to a warm father-figure with his unique facial expressions alone.
The only flaw with his character is that they make such an effort to establish him a loner before he arrives in Tasmania, and yet it only takes half a day for him to warm to complete strangers. He almost instantly becomes a father to the children, which I expect was a more gradual transition in the book.
And while it was good seeing Callan Mulvey land a feature role that wasn’t crime-related, I don’t understand why he had to put on the lame British accent. Why couldn’t they just cast a British actor if it was a requirement of the character? The only people who are going to recognise him are Australians but they’re also the only ones who will pick up on the accent.
The rest of the cast were fantastic – Sam Neill was underutilised but surprisingly creepy, Frances O’Connor was magnetic as the free-spirited mother, Dan Wyllie seems to steal scenes with any role he takes on and newcomer Morgana Davies has a bright future ahead of her.
All in all, The Hunter is a step in the right direction for Australian cinema, offering a lot more than the standard crime films and ocker comedies. And while the source material may not have been captured perfectly, the Tasmanian landscape has never looked so beautiful.
The Hunter opens in selected cinemas nationally, Thursday 06 October, 2011.