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The Hunter (Willem Dafoe) - Review

The Hunter

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

WILLEM Dafoe delivers another fine performance in this beautifully haunting Australian film based on a novel by Julua Leigh (of Sleeping Beauty fame).

He plays a tracker-assassin named Martin David who is sent out into the Australian wilderness to find and kill a Tasmanian tiger, a legendary beast that may not even exist., by a shadowy organisation that also wants him to capture its DNA for possible future cloning.

While there, however, he must stay with a local family, headed by emotionally distant mum Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor), and given extra warmth by the two children, Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock).

The longer Martin spends with the family, and especially the children, the more he becomes fascinated by them, emerging as a possible father-figure in the absence of their own dad, who is lost and presumed deads in the wildneress.

To complicate matters still further for Martin, who would prefer to be left alone, local tensions are reaching boiling point between the loggers and environmentalists, while a family friend (played by Sam Neill) also adds a cautious, possibly even jealous, extra presence.

Daniel Nattheim directs proceedings with a great amount of subtlety, making the most of both his strong cast and the stunning environmental backdrop – which is, by turns, beautiful yet harsh.

He also refuses to spoon-feed the audience, relying on their intelligence to understand the environmental and ecological messages at play while also enabling the human story at its core to develop in a mature, rewarding manner.

When first introduced, Dafoe’s Martin is a fiercely independent assassin… a ghost of sorts whose existence depends on the same kind of ability to blend in and remain invisible as his prey (a lot like George Clooney’s character in The American).

Yet as he becomes embroiled in the lives of his reluctantly ‘adopted’ family, he experiences an emotional re-awakening, so much so that come the time to decide whether to do his job or act in someone else’s better interests he is finally torn and forced to examine a different set of values. This, in turn, places him in danger.

Nattheim doesn’t shirk from the tragedy at play, either, dropping in some last act twists that will surprise viewers anticipating a happy ending. Yet, at the same time, he ensures that the very final scene is genuinely affecting.

Hence, The Hunter is a film that absorbs while it lasts and stays with you once it’s finished. It’s also striking for two reasons: Dafoe’s commanding, quietly dignified, yet ruthlessly efficient central performance, and the stunning Australian locations.

It’s a film that demands to find a wide and appreciate audience for the way in which it delivers emotionally, while making you think along the way.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 101mins
UK Release Date: July 6, 2012