Spoiler Level: Low
Deep in the heart of the Tasmanian forest, William Dafoe wanders after perhaps the last Tasmanian tiger in a beautifully shot picture from first time film director Daniel Nettheim. Unless you’re from Australia, don’t feel bad for not knowing his name. Before this, he only worked on Australian television series. Now, he breaks into film, sharing his beautiful visions and the lush landscape that he uses as his playground. While The Hunter has many great things to look at, including the actors virtuoso performances, the plot moves along slowly, perhaps being too true to the title, while the audience sits like a hunter, waiting and waiting for something to pop out of the foliage.
Dafoe plays gun-for-hire introvert Martin, who is hired by a fictional technology company called Red Leaf. They claim that someone has sighted the long thought extinct Tasmanian Tiger, and they want a DNA sample. They tell him that other’s might be on the lookout for it, and that he must work quickly, alone, and not tell anyone what it is he is looking for. So, Martin packs up his stuff, and puts on the fake identity of a University Researcher as he travels to Tasmania. There, he stays with a strange family named Armstrong, who’s father is missing, mother is mostly MIA, and two kids hang around, mostly without electricity and companionship. Martin also meets another hunter, Jack Mindy (Sam Neill, and no, he is not hunting dinosaurs) who shows him various spots and trails, and tries to get a feel what Martin is up to.
Most of the plot unfolds at a turtle’s pace, with long shots of Dafoe meandering around the wilderness, setting traps, avoiding the crazed locals, and spending time with the Armstrong children. The character arch of Martin is the movies shinning achievement. He goes from a loner who listens to classical music on his iPod (which is a very interesting cultural clash, honestly) to a pseudo father. Dafoe’s acting (and really, everyone else in the cast) is fantastic, with deep understanding and appreciation of the character. Although he doesn’t say much, you can feel him fall in love with the children, and all the scenes where he spends time in the house are beautifully done. This, and a very intense, heart-wrenching third act make this movie quite exceptional. If only the first two-thirds of the movie weren’t as boring and had some of the strong suspense of the ending, this movie would be a bang-up thriller. If you’re a fan of great acting and character arches with family sensibilities, I would say go for it. If you’re looking for a violent hunting movie including a sniper climax between Dafoe and Neill (admit it, that sounds awesome) you probably might want to look elsewhere.