Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Hunter (2012) ***

R, 102 min.
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Writer: Alice Addison, Wain Fimeri, Julia Leigh (novel)
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Sam Neill, Morgana Davies, Finn Woodlock

“The Hunter” is one of those small independent movies that would be easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. It has a unique subject for a “small” film. I suppose it’s a unique subject for any film. It involves the Tasmanian tiger, a species of animal that was thought to have gone extinct in the 1930s. Willem Dafoe plays a hunter who is hired by a pharmaceutical company to find one in the wild. He arrives in Tasmania to hostility from the natives and housing conditions that are less than promised. The family he stays with lost their father over a year earlier. It’s rumored that he had seen a Tasmanian tiger.

It took me a while to figure out whether this movie was about the hostility of the Tasmanian people toward foreigners, or really about the discovery of this animal that has been declared extinct, or even some sort of corporate greed thriller. Of course, it isn’t really about any of those things. The title tells us what it’s about, the hunter.

This is the type of role I love to see Dafoe in. He’s so often typed into a caricature because of his unique looks, but the man is actually a very good actor. In this movie we see him transform from a hard-edged mercenary into a loving, caring father figure. Yet, he’s forced with a choice in the end that he could never make without the cold-heart he started out with and the kinder one he ends up with. It’s a choice like none other that I’ve seen a protagonist have to make in a film.

This is not the type of film people will seek out. Although, I’m sure its promotional material paints it as some sort of action adventure. It’s much more of a slow burner. I liked how it progressed so naturally. Although it contains the typical thriller elements, it doesn’t lean on them. Instead, it’s the Dafoe character who drives the action. Everything that happens feels very natural, yet it’s a story that is quite contrived, especially considering its premise of the existence of an animal that hasn’t been seen in almost 80 years. 

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