The Hunter (2011) dir. Daniel Nettheim
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Frances O'Connor
By Greg Klymkiw
This is definitely one of those movies you want to like while you're watching, but too much conspires against you to succumb to what are ultimately its meagre attributes.
Star Willem Dafoe is definitely one of the best things about the picture. He plays a master hunter who takes tough jobs nobody else will take and usually for nefarious types looking for endangered species. For a whole whack of dough he heads into the wilds of Tasmania. Thought to be extinct, reports have filtered through that one Tasmanian tiger might still exist. He's billeted with a family in the middle of nowhere and sets about his dirty task.
When Dafoe is alone in the wilderness stalking his prey, the movie soars. Alas, there are far too many annoying subplots that get in the way - culled no doubt from Julia Leigh's novel upon which the picture is based.
The family he stays with is, one supposes, the primary reason he begins to question the morality of what he's doing. Furthermore, there are the nasty locals who have a major hate-on for the environmentalists who are threatening their livelihood - the clear-cutting of forests and there are the mysterious figures who may or may not have their own malevolent motives to either kill him and/or kill the tiger - IF it even exists.
Director Daniel Nettheim and screenwriter Alice Addison never adequately juggle all these elements. In fact, the middle of the road plot elements are affixed to what could/should be more intimate. They feel by rote - almost unnecessary. The "villain" is obvious from the get-go and with all the time the movie takes to dangle a red herring - it's finally all for nought since we know who the scarlet fishy-wishy is anyway and that he's not the real problem.
As such, we always feel annoyed that these elements intrude upon our fascination with Willem Dafoe whilst he meticulously goes about his "craft" in the wilds.
I know it's not fair to wish the movie was something else, but it would truly have been a much more interesting movie if it had contented itself with being a man against the wilderness story so that Dafoe's turn could instead come from a respect he develops for the tiger - seeing in it something of himself and acting accordingly.
Alas, this is not the movie it is and as such, is worse for the wear because of it.
The Hunter is being unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2011) and will be released by e-one Entertainment.