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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

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

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