This second feature from director Daniel Nettheim begins with representatives of some shadowy biotech company briefing mercenary Martin (Willem Dafoe) on his mission, which is to beat rival companies to capture the last remaining Tasmanian Tiger. Apparently its DNA is worth billions, although it is never made clear why. Neither is it explained why the company is so sure the legendary Tassie Tiger is still out there somewhere, one beast away from extinction, but we can forgive that. Less forgivable is the corny dialogue and the hokey feel to the scene. Uh-oh.
Well, the warning signs were there, and indeed, things don’t improve much as the movie progresses.
Martin fronts up to a rustic homestead that the company has arranged for him to stay at (farmstay accommodation seems like a strange choice, but let’s not delve into the logic of that), and is greeted by a couple of feral kids with annoying names: amusingly foul-mouthed chatterbox Sass (Morgana Davies) and mute little brother Bike (Finn Woodlock). They show him to his lodgings – a dirty, neglected spare room. Turns out the mother, Lucy (Fran O’Connor), is depressed and in bed, drugged out on sedatives – a state she has apparently been in since her greenie husband went missing months before while tracking the elusive Tiger. Was he working undercover for the biotech company, perhaps? And if so, has he met with foul play? Which again raises the question of the company’s accommodation choice for Martin. Hmmm…
Obviously not a kiddie person, Martin heads for the local pub in search of alternative lodgings, but his enquiries are greeted with hostility by the timberworker clientele. They mistakenly assume he is a greenie, and therefore The Enemy; illogically, he says nothing to enlighten them.
Back at the homestead, Martin gets to work scrubbing his room – and Lucy, whom he strips off and lowers into the bath. OK, she’s doubtless in need of a clean-up and virtually comatose, and the kids are looking on… but really, wouldya? Script credibility meter sinking deep into ‘low’ territory at this point.
Still, not a bad set-up. Plenty of intrigue ahead, you’d think, as Martin sets off into the wilderness in pursuit of the Tiger. Some spectacular camerawork comes into play here, capturing the dramatic landscape with panoramic sweeps and some wonderful aerial work. In fact, these scenic shots are the highlight of the movie.
The rest is disappointing. Too much time is spent tracking Martin’s multiple travels to and from the wilderness in his 4WD. This is a glaring structural weakness of the film. Further, much of his time out in Tiger territory is spent fashioning and setting traps and doing the man-in-the-wild thing. Repetitive, and we’ve seen it all before. (Bear Grylls has a lot to answer for).
In between these frequent wilderness excursions, Martin and a now drug-free and rejuvenated Lucy begin eyeing each other off, but there’s not enough space left in the script to allow much character or relationship development. This impacts on the performances.
Fran O’Connor seems awkward and uncertain in her role and is unconvincing as a hippie/greenie/alternative type. Badly cast, in my opinion. Willem Dafoe is a quality act and does a good job with the material he has to work with, but he is fighting a losing battle to salvage this movie. The kids are good, as kids almost always are. Sam Neill is unremarkable as possessive farmer neighbour Jack, who is harbouring ‘feelings’ for Lucy.
The warring greenie and forestry workers are no more than a topical backdrop to the main action, but still, some effort could surely have been made to flesh them out a little. The greenies come across as silly hippies and the timberworkers as bonehead rednecks. It’s hard to care much about either side. This sort of stereotyping is lazy and uninteresting.
The pacing is uneven, the story moving in fits and starts, slowing to a drag in the wilderness and moving too fast out of it. There’s a sense at the end that vital segments have been left out or rushed through incomplete, and that part of Martin’s character arc is missing. As a result, the emotional power of the movie is severely compromised.
The Hunter was based on Julia Leigh’s novel of the same name (I haven’t read it). Adaptating literary works to film is a notoriously risky and difficult process. I suspect much has been lost in translation here.
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