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Movie Review: ‘The Hunter’

Willem Dafoe shines in otherwise lackluster drama

By Joe Bendel Created: April 5, 2012 Last Updated: April 6, 2012
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Willem Dafoe in the adventure-drama 'The Hunter,' a film about a European mercenary sent by a mysterious biotech company into the wilderness to hunt for the last Tasmanian Tiger.(Magnolia Pictures)

Willem Dafoe in the adventure-drama 'The Hunter,' a film about a European mercenary sent by a mysterious biotech company into the wilderness to hunt for the last Tasmanian Tiger.(Magnolia Pictures)

The Tasmanian Tiger is sort of like the Australian Sasquatch, except it was definitely real enough. Though it has been declared extinct, reported sightings persist in remote corners of Tasmania. One dour mercenary’s client is certain that the reports are true and has sent him into the field to bag the last marsupial-cat in Daniel Nettheim’s The Hunter, which opens this Friday in New York.

Martin David is a hard-bitten mercenary, who apparently specializes in fish and game. His latest client is Red Leaf, an oddly New Age-sounding biotech company that wants sole possession of the last Tasmanian Tiger’s DNA. Supposedly, the thylacine (as it was properly called) secreted a mild toxin to help incapacitate its prey. Red Leaf wants to replicate that secretion, since there are only a couple hundred compounds already on the market that perform the same function cheaper and more effectively.

Red Leaf has covertly arranged for David to pose as an academic researcher while staying in the home of Lucy Armstrong, a young presumptive widow with two children. Word of the credible Tassie Tiger sightings has leaked out, putting pressure on David to complete his mission quickly.

Willem Dafoe (L) and Sam Neill in the adventure-drama 'The Hunter.' (Magnolia Pictures)

Willem Dafoe (L) and Sam Neill in the adventure-drama 'The Hunter.' (Magnolia Pictures)

Yet, much to his surprise, David lets himself get emotionally involved with the Armstrong children, who are still coming to terms with the suspicious disappearance and assumed death of their father. Of course, Red Leaf hardly approves of sentimental tarrying and has ways of dealing with lollygagging freelancers and their distractions.

The initial premise of The Hunter is so eye-rollingly clichéd that it nearly scuttles the entire film right from the start. However, Willem Dafoe is perfectly cast as David, portraying the gradual awakening of his conscience with convincing conviction. The Tasmanian wilderness is also hugely cinematic, shrewdly lensed by cinematographer Robert Humphreys to maximize the effect of exotic mystery.

It is hard to call The Hunter a thriller, per se. Rather, it invites descriptive adjectives such as “brooding” and “intense.” Those fit Dafoe’s performance quite well, but Nettheim’s direction is somewhat slack at times. Still, he handles the long-awaited appearance of the tiger rather deftly.

While Dafoe makes something rather compelling of his anti-hero, the film’s stilted preachiness constantly weighs down its momentum. An interesting dark character study, but a considerably flawed adventure-drama, The Hunter is the sort of film to wait for until it is available for free cable viewing or Netflix streaming. It opens this Friday (April 6) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.

The Hunter

Director: Daniel Nettheim

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Sam Neill

Running Time: 101 minutes

Rating: R

Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles please visit http://jbspins.blogspot.com




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