The Hunter – Review

The Hunter – Review

By FilmFella Henry – 6/10

Set within the Tasmanian wilds, Martin (Willem Dafoe) is a professional hunter sent to locate the last Tasmanian tiger by a shadowy biotech company. Finding himself caught in a bitter dispute between a logging company and a group of eco protesters, Martin’s attempt to locate the elusive creature tests not only his hunter’s skills, but also his morality.

I naturally assumed, from both title and trailer, that The Hunter would fall neatly into the survivalist genre: Dafoe alone in the dangerous wilds, kind of like Vincent Gallo in Essential Killing. Oddly, director Daniel Nettheim eschews this traditional yet effective formula for a story that is more character drama than hunter’s tale. I quickly believed this to be a mistake, as by the end of the first act, the film’s focus began to waver.

This lack of narrative direction is rooted in Martin’s relationship with the Armstrong family, with whom he is lodging. Realising the absence of their dad is breaking the family apart, Martin assumes a paternal role and instantly his (and the film’s) priorities change: the adopted family becomes the focus, while the search for the Tasmanian tiger is left on a backburner.

Had this relationship held more narrative significance or revealed something profound about the protagonist, this shift would have been fine. However, while not dull, Martin’s exploits away from the wilds are certainly a distraction from what could have been a far more effective survivalist plot. This element’s lack of substance is mirrored by the brief foray into environmental issues that never really culminates into a message either meaningful or original.

Nettheim does attempt to tie these wandering threads back to Martin’s initial objective; albeit through clumsy nefarious actions by the Biotech client and Martin’s growing concerns for his own safety. And in truth the end isn’t bad, with a nice moral dilemma Martin has to face. But it still doesn’t hide the film’s apparent confusion over what it wants to say. Is it about preserving nature? Or the importance of a family unit? Or even man’s destructive nature? Hard to tell as The Hunter never focuses enough on one element to be worthwhile.

Not really a film I’d recommend, despite Willem Dafoe’s usual high standard of performance. I’m sure there’s a good story in there somewhere: after all, the book it was based on did receive critical acclaim. Perhaps Nettheim was simply the wrong man for the job.

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About filmfellahenry
Film reviewer, script writer and occasional painter. Fan of Lumet, Aronofsky and Kubrick, with a good measure of early John Carpenter thrown in. Particularly like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and fantasy film genres.

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