At times, The Hunter is a visually appealing film. But for the most part, its lack of narrative punch and consistency keeps it strictly in the travelogue territory. Directed by Daniel Nettheim and based on a 1999 novel of the same name by Julia Leigh, the Australian film was made on location in Tasmania and features some beautiful cinematography from Robert Humphreys.
The book centres on a hunter who sets out to locate the last Tasmania tiger. The creature was thought to be extinct in the 20th century and was the largest carnivorous marsupial known to man. The motion picture spends very little time delving into the tiger or the hunt for it, although it seems very off-measure in terms of conveying itself and doesn’t seem to be able to decide on a plot thread to stick with until it’s too late.
Willem Dafoe puts in a good turn as Martin David, the titular hunter. We get a sense that he may be something more, but this isn’t really fleshed out in detail. At the outset, he’s hired by a military biotechnology group called Red Leaf to locate the presumably extinct Tasmanian tiger. There have apparently been some sightings and the corporation wants him to follow up.
David arrives and stays with the Armstrong family, using their home as a sort of basecamp. He eventually gets involved with the family on a number of levels, as the patriarch has disappeared. The mother, Lucy (Frances O’Connor), is on medication as a result of her grief. David eventually comes in contact with Jack Mindy (Sam Neill), a local guide who is suspicious of what the hunter is up to.
The Hunter hunts around for a plot for quite some time, careening between soft domestic drama and small-town ruffian material. It also has a survivalist bent, which is where most of the better stuff lies. Dafoe does a game job lying around in the bush on his own and the movie’s longer patches of his “hunt” for the tiger are the most interesting pieces.
But the rest of the picture is quite stale. There’s not much to the domestic drama of the Armstrong family, even when the requisite characters start taking the requisite offence to how close David is getting. There’s some stuff with the kids as well and the hunter’s customary sense of solitude is shaken by the fact that the little goobers have been looking long and hard for a father figure.
This sort of thing is generally acceptable, but for some reason The Hunter doesn’t know how to dedicate itself. It veers around constantly, rarely settling in one place for too long and seldom really letting us get to know its characters. It’s too bad; it seems like there’s a good movie here underneath the blurred tactics.
It’s clear that Nettheim is going for the whole quiet and reserved character study genus, but it’s hard to get a grasp on exactly how the characters are evolving – or why they’re evolving that way. As a result, it becomes very akin to a made-for-TV movie with cursing. There’s little of import and the movie ends up rather bland.
It could be argued that Dafoe’s character is drawn into an emotional awakening, I suppose, but The Hunter doesn’t stay fixated on the concept long enough to make it worthwhile. What comes instead is a culmination that is about as rudimentary and corny as it gets. I should reiterate that this isn’t a bad film, but it’s not worth going out of your way for either. It’s just okay.