Reviews

Still Waters Run Deep: 'The Hunter'

Willem Dafoe shines in the intriguing story of a man who finds his way in the Tasmanian wilderness.


The Hunter

Director: Daniel Nettheim
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Frances O’Connor, Morganna Davies, Finn Woodlock
Distributor: Magnolia
Rated: R
Release date: 2012-07-03

Willem Dafoe has one of those unique faces that makes him the perfect choice to play the vile denizens of the criminal world. He excels at playing vicious, off-beat characters that can inspire fear with their very presence. Although he might be considered handsome, Dafoe hides behind bad teeth, crazy hair, and outlandish make-up. When this appearance is combined with over-the-top theatrics, you have the makings of an excellent character actor.

The interesting counterpoint is that Dafoe has also shined as a dramatic lead. A perfect example is The Last Temptation of Christ, where his questions and doubts about his purpose completely sell the title character’s struggles. Indeed, that performance reveals that it’s unfair to categorize Dafoe as a supporting player.

A prominent new role that follows this trend is Martin David in The Hunter, an intriguing story of a man who finds his way in the Tasmanian wilderness. Recruited by a biotech company to hunt a very rare Tasmanian tiger, David seems to have a clear business purpose for making the trip. He masquerades as a scientist while searching for the extremely valuable commodity. This brings him into contact with Lucy Armstrong (Frances O’Connor) and her two wonderful children. They wait anxiously for word on her husband, who was lost while hunting for the same animal.

Drawn in by this needy and generous family, David becomes the father figure the kids lost. He nurses their mom back to health and seems ready to give up his quest to stay with them. Unfortunately, his employers' reach extends far into this wilderness and creates dire trouble for anyone who blocks their goals.

David is a quiet man who looks to avoid conflict, which isn’t easy in this rough town. The locals don’t take kindly to foreigners. Dafoe does an excellent job playing the quiet guy and gives one of his most believable performances. It’s stunning to watch him pull back and bring such heart to the character. It’s clear that he’s completely smitten with the kids and would do anything for them. Dafoe conveys this feeling with minimal dialogue, which is no easy task.

Frances O’Connor (Mansfield Park) is also great because she’s not your typical love interest. It’s possible that a romance could develop, but she doesn’t immediately fall for the guy. She’s skeptical but appreciates the caring after reaching such a low point. Even her frequent cursing doesn’t seem like a cheap device and fits with the set-up for these unconventional kids. The child actors (Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock) are also much better in their roles than one may have expected.

This film is adapted from the 1999 novel of the same name by Julia Leigh, who directed Sleeping Beauty last year. It’s shot by Australian Daniel Nettheim, who’s worked primarily on many television series. He filmed the entire movie in Tasmania, and the beautiful natural environment plays a key role in the story. The long shots of Dafoe trudging alone through the grand wilderness are spectacular and add scale to the intimate story. Although it’s primarily a character study, the impressive scenery brings an epic feeling to David’s quest.

The promotion stressed the thriller elements, but that’s a small portion of the actual movie. He must deal with the danger of crossing his employers in the final act, yet Davis seems more interested in the emotional connects between himself and the Armstrong family.

This DVD release offers a solid collection of extras, including a feature-length commentary from Nettheim. The four- part documentary gives a nice overview of the production process. Behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew cover the expected material. The sections chronicle the story, the characters and cast, shooting in the Tasmanian landscape, and the tiger itself. The total feature runs about 30 minutes, with a good portion focusing on the characters.

The disc also contains six minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary from Nettheim. A few moments flesh out Sam Neill’s character and make him a greater part of the story.

The Hunter is an intriguing movie that benefits greatly from Dafoe remarkable performance. It ranks among the best roles of his career, which is saying a lot, given his impressive resume. Neill appears too briefly in a supporting part, but his screen time likely ended up on the cutting room floor. Neill’s Jack Mindy has a few notable scenes but feels out of place in the main plot. There are a few story and pacing issues that bring it down a little, but they’re mainly forgotten because we’re invested in the main characters. Nettheim’s confident direction keeps us engaged right up to the stunning conclusion.

7

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image