The Hunter Movie Review

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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14 thoughts on “The Hunter Movie Review”

  1. Been distracted with some other annoying and stupid shit, Karen.

    I can say I wasn’t particularly enthused by Take Shelter. Thought the ending undercut the content that preceded it. Good performances, but that was the only real plus for me. I walked out po-faced and didn’t give it a second thought.

    Avoided reviewing Higher Ground because I resented being stuck in happy clappy land for 2 slow hours and thought it best to refrain from posting yet another slamming review.

    Cleared the negatives in the reviewing air with Midnight In Paris though, huh? Was it as great for you?

  2. Hahaha – thanks for the correction, ‘me’!

    Have changed “Daniel Dafoe” to “Willem Dafoe”. At least I didn’t spell “Willem” as “William” – better a spectacular confusion with a 17th C author than a commonplace spelling blunder.

    But you missed my mis-spelling of “Dafoe” – Daniel’s surname was “Defoe”. You fuckwit.

  3. Ok, Take Shelter. I was also not so much underwhelmed as really annoyed, because I felt the film started well as an investigation into the process of falling mentally ill. It did drag, and I was bothered by the Herman Munsteresque appearance of the lead actor (MIchael Shannon?), and the one-dimensional beautiful, loyal wife character, but I was REALLY pissed off when they were about to emerge from the storm shelter, and she makes with the ” YOU have to open the door! If I open it, nothing will change, blah blah blah” speech. What hokey crap! All credibility lost instantly. I was surprised when the film continued after that – and even more surprised in the final sequence when I realised I had been watching a “thriller” all along. W. T. F.
    On the other hand, I enjoyed Higher Ground. I thought it was a graceful and respectful film about people who are no more familiar to me than aliens.
    Midnight in Paris: lovely, nice concept, well executed. If Woody could only expunge all um, er, all, you know, traces, of that, you know, I mean to say, hesitant style of speech so his characters didn’t, didn’t, you know, resemble, um Woody himself, I might be able to enjoy his films with fewer reservations (other reservations about scornful treatment of stock characters). As they stand though, they drive me nuts.

  4. Willem,

    Language, puh-lease. And it’s “illiterate”, not “illeterate”. That’s a bad word to get wrong in the context of yer accusations of illiteracy!

  5. Whoa – flurry of activity on the Comments thread – I can’t keep up!

    Karen,

    Yeah, all good points you make on Take Shelter. I agree with your observations, though not all occurred to me. For me, that ending really undid whatever good work led up to it. As you say, it put paid to any generic unity, and I say it undermined what could have been a quite compelling – if longwinded – presentation of the onset of schizophrenia. On a positive note, I thought the merging of nightmare with the rest of the action so you couldn’t tell which was which until Herman Munster ‘woke up’ was an effective device pulling the viewer into the terror of the schizophrenic experience.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on Higher Ground. For me, it was an enforced and fairly pointless confinement in a milieu that compels me to yawn (and yes, this is probably a case of boredom being an outward manifestation of anger and resentment). Further, I thought the direction was heavy-handed, and the writing clumsy. Numerous examples occur to me, but three obvious ones are:
    1) It beggars belief that the Vera Farmiga character would never have heard of speaking in tongues. Just dumb writing in my book, regardless of the source of the story being an autobiography.
    2) Vera seems to just drop all contact with her best buddy as soon as God does a Job on her. Whaaa?
    3) When the church-free Vera sees her new love interest with his wife and family, his marital attachment is needlessly megaphoned through having his wife draped all over him (a bit like Mary with Joseph in a nativity scene, come to think about it).

    That’ll do. We ain’t gonna find much common ground in Higher Ground, I think.

    Haha – yeah, I can get your aversion to the Woody speech hesitation patterns, but I guess I’m biased there. I love most of his stuff, and especially adored Midnight In Paris. I suppose I just accept that speech mode as coming with the territory.

    Not sure what you mean by “scornful treatment of stock characters”?

    Cheers!
    R

  6. I’ll say a flurry of comment activity! I may have to start using me’s elegant term “fuck wit”. I’m loving the two-word verb-noun action there. Real emphasis, instant imagery, etc. Do you think s/he’s a poet?
    I take your points about Higher Ground. It’s not for everyone. The autobiography-to-film thing is indeed tricky. Surely an original screenplay wouldn’t have had the two non-Christian characters (drug addicted slag sister, and slimy poetry-peddling adulterer) quite so reprehensible? What beggared my belief about the speaking-in-tongues scene was not that the Farmiga character did not know of the phenomenon – it was set in the 70s, after all, and I can pretty clearly remember that wave of weirdo fundamentalism emerging around then – but that it came over the woman in a boat on a lake rather than in its natural environment, the hyped-up charismatic snake-handling blindness-curing evangelical prayer meeting. I don’t reckon Jonathan Safran would believe it either. But yeah, never visiting the stroke-raddled friend: probably explained in the book, seems mad cruel in the film.
    Scornful treatment of stock characters: the rich philistine not ring a bell? The hot-air-spouting pseudo-intellectual? Woody is such a snob about these characters, and he doesn’t treat them lightly: they are boors, churls, and worse. It lets Gil off the hook: it’s hardly a difficult choice he makes to leave Inez (or does she leave him? I can’t remember; anyway, why were they together in the first place?).
    Hey, hope I’ve incensed me somehow and s/he lets loose with some more crackerjack wordplay.

  7. Me appears to have bloomed in one glorious moment and that’s all folks. Oh well…

    Yeah, rich philistines and pseudo-intellectuals are certainly among Woody’s pet targets, but I have no problem with that! Fair? Don’t care! Satire and irony is never better applied than to these specimens, and Woody sets ’em up and knocks ’em down like no other. Because I share his aversion to these types, I don’t tire of gleefully watching them put to the torch. But then, as I recently confessed, I’m a reverse snob from way back.

    Fair observation on Gil being let off the hook. As to why they were together in the first place, I suppose money and status are obvious assets of Inez’s – and then there’s that magnificent arse Woody’s camera shamelessly and gratuitously lingered over as she bent over loading (or unloading?…wasn’t taking much notice!) the back of the car. I’m base, yes. But honest!

  8. Thanks for the comments. I’m more ready than the next person to laugh at pseuds and philistines, that’s why I don’t like Woody’s caricatures of them: it devalues my contempt! He does indeed set them up and knock them down – but how could he miss when he makes those targets so damn large? Subtle it ain’t.
    Ah yes, Inez’s ass-ets. For all Woody’s celebrated intellect and appreciation of the finer things of life, he sure knows what’s important in a woman.
    By the way, I had nothing to add to your review of Our Idiot Brother: agreed with everything you said.
    Also, if I knew how to make italics for the film titles, I would. My middle name is Grammarnazi.

  9. Hahaha – I do believe we’re having a Margaret and David moment! I like Woody’s caricatures of pseuds and phils! I don’t mind if they lack subtlety (and even if I concede that point, which I guess I reluctantly hafta, I still enjoy the stuff ol’ Woody has coming out of their mooshes). Females don’t like Woody as much as we bloke fans – maybe that’s all there is to this? [written hastily as he ducked for the easy escape option].

    Re Inez’s ass-ets (like that) – yep, spot on re Woody in that respect. I enjoyed the blatant and conscious gratuitousness of that ogle shot (though not as much as the objet de focus).

    Look, from one grammarnazi to another, my sympathies re the italicising of the titles. I have the advantage of being able to edit my Comments after posting, and when you get under the bonnet with WordPress you get access to all the font effects etc as WYSIWYG button options. I suppose you could use html or whatever to produce italics, but that’s not something I have much idea about.

    I’ll see if there is some plugin that makes italicisation and those sorts of things available in the Comments. I feel your pain!

    On a similar note, I am also a spelling pedant, but I must regretfully divulge my spelling has gone to the sheissehaus as I’ve gotten older. Some involuntarily creative and idiosyncratic blogging coming up in the years ahead, I spose…

    PS: Have now enabled display of code allowed in Comments. So, if you want to italicise a title, just sandwich it between i and /i, with each of these italics code signifiers enclosed in angle brackets: <>

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