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

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.