The Hunter is slow, inconsistent, and annoyingly unclear
about what its intentions are. It is, on the one hand, a wilderness thriller
about the search for an elusive animal; the search is so competitive that people
are willing to kill for it. On the other hand, itís a soppy relationship drama
founded on nothing made apparent to the audience, apart from the convenience of
the right characters being in the right place at the right time. Thirdly, itís a
vague, unrewarding examination of the conflict between the industry and
environmentalism, proponents of the former desperate to keep their jobs simply
because itís the only way to keep the local economy going. Finally, itís an
impenetrable character study, the subject a man whose past is a mystery and
whose current actions stem from an inexplicable change in perspective.
Adapted from the novel by Julia Leigh, it tells the story of a hunter named
Martin (Willem Dafoe), whoís discretely hired by a biotech company to infiltrate
the wilderness of Tasmania and track down the Tasmanian Tiger, an animal that by
most accounts was considered to have gone extinct nearly eighty years ago. The
middleman wants Martin to follow up on two reported sightings, which he claims
are from reliable sources. His instructions are to gather organ, blood, and
tissue samples and then immediately report back. Heís warned that, although this
information has been kept hidden, word always has a way of spreading. He has a
few months at most, perhaps even less, before other biotech companies get wind
of it. In fact, they may have already gotten wind of it. Martin needs to watch
Although repeatedly referred to as a scientist, Martin has the skills and
demeanor of a rugged survivalist and an assassin. In virtually all wilderness
scenes, we him living off the land, shooting animals for food and for bait, and
setting up small bear traps and covering them with foliage. He even constructs
his own crude traps using only twigs and leaves. He has a miniature arsenal at
his disposal, along with a case full of plastic bags and test tubes. Initially
sealed off and selective in when he speaks, his heart gradually melts when heís
introduced to the family of a local scientist who went missing months earlier.
The mother, Lucy (Frances OíConnor), is at first only seen in bed, numb on
medications; Martin helps get her off of them, and when he returns after yet
another excursion, itís as if she had never taken a pill in her life. I will not
say that they fall in love, but if given half a chance, this story almost
certainly would have gone in that direction.
Martin also befriends Lucyís two children, who essentially fend for
themselves in their rustic home Ė or, more accurately, a hippie compound with
poor plumbing, electricity from a shoddy generator, and Christmas lights and
speakers hanging from the trees. The precocious daughter, nicknamed Sass (Morgana
Davies), is outgoing and talkative. The son, nicknamed Bike (Finn Woodlock),
doesnít say a word. He does, however, express himself through his childish
drawings. And wouldnít you know, one of his pictures provides Martin with a clue
as to the location of the Tiger. Martin and Bike form an especially tight bond,
although for the life of me, Iím not sure why. Nothing about Martin suggests he
would ever consider being a father figure, let alone actually become one.
Prior to Martinís arrival, Lucy and her kids are looked after by a man named
Jack (Sam Neill), whoís hired to be Martinís guide through the wilderness.
Martin will accept his help, but only to a point; once they reach a cliff
overlooking a valley of dense forest, he insists on continuing alone. Jackís
role is not made explicitly clear, although itís strongly suggested that he has
ties to both the evil biotech company and the angry loggers. The latter is an
especially ill-fitting subplot, as it doesnít seem to coincide with either the
search for the Tiger or Martinís growing affection for Lucy and her family.
There are a group of men who are convinced Martin is yet another environmental
activist sent to take their jobs away. At one point, they drive up to Lucyís
house and fire a warning shot.
The last major action sequence is rather conventional, as it involves the
arrival of another biotech operative with his own agenda. Not long after, it
becomes a matter of whether or not Martin will find the last remaining Tasmanian
Tiger, and no, I will not spoil this for you. I will say that it would have been
better had the film ended on that note. But the filmmakers take it one step
further and go for an emotional climax, one that comes from nothing the audience
can see. If youíve read my reviews, you know that I donít have a problem with
sentiment. But in this particular story, it feels stylistically out of place. I
wonít go so far as to say that The Hunter is a bad film, but it
certainly is misguided. It needed a better grasp on character, a more consistent
tone, and a less meandering plot.