Toronto 2011 Review: Willem Dafoe in THE HUNTER

Ultimately The Hunter is a beautiful little film bolstered by assured direction from Daniel Nettheim and a great performance from Dafoe, that unfortunately undermines it’s excellence in the home stretch by opting to take the easy ending, instead of taking the story in a number of more interesting ways.

rating: 4

The one thing I have noticed about Australian film The Hunter after discussing it with several other press and industry folk, is that it is an extremely divisive film. Obviously, when it comes to critiquing a film it is impossible to separate your own sensibilities from it, so I can understand why some people strongly dislike it, but at the same time I know why I really enjoyed it. Personally, I am a firm believer that every story has been told, and it requires the little tweaks and flourishes to make a film seem different from all the others. For me a film lives and dies on its characters and their depth rather than how twisty-turny the narrative is. I don€™t care how many twists are in your plot good sir, if your characters are not worth their salt then I just don€™t care. The Hunter has a great concept that I love. Martin (Willem Dafoe) is a highly paid, brilliant mercenary who is sent to a harsh and desolate part of the Australian outback to search out the last Tasmanian Tiger, a species of animal widely thought to be completely extinct. Apparently one has been spotted and it has been proven that one lurks this stretch of the outback, so Martin is hired by enigmatic bioweapons company Red Leaf to hunt it down and kill it, take samples and then destroy it so only Red Leaf have it. When I think about the film and talk to other people about it, I recognise that it is actually very flawed, but I€™m not ashamed to admit that I was completely captivated by it. A lot of the time is spent with just Martin, interacting with the wilderness and being alone. It is desolate, it is unkind and lonely work. Martin is cold, clinical and precise in his hunt, but he is essentially playing a losing man€™s game. There is an incredible sense of scale for a film with such a modest budget, it really feels like a hopeless lost cause, but Martin, being a very patient and professional individual perseveres. I found the atmosphere of The Hunter to be extremely captivating, which is a tremendous feat considering it was 8.30am and I was really tired, but my eyes were just glued to the screen. I loved the daunting scale and the way that the isolation really seemed to envelop him. Martin is an interesting individual, and though he plays the role of a chameleon, as all professional mercenaries I€™m sure are very capable of, he can blend into any given situation. Willem Dafoe embodies the character really well and makes him seem interesting and complex without giving too much away. The problems arise for Martin when he is given his lodgings in a house with two children whose father was searching for the Tiger a year ago and has been missing ever since, presumed dead and the Mother lies in bed, dosed up to her eyeballs depressed. Martin blends in and acts very kind to these people, but as with many of these films the line begins to blur between his act and who he is and he develops actual feelings for this broken family. While there is a large amount of contrivance scattered liberally throughout the plot, that didn€™t matter much to me. I recognise it, but for once it didn€™t derail the film for me because I was so invested in Martin and his plight. And every time he went out into the wilderness the pressure seemed to increase, the nature was beautiful, the cinematography gorgeous and the desolate atmosphere just gets under your skin and becomes more and more unsettling as the film progresses. The film€™s biggest downfall is definitely the end of the film where it essentially develops from an unconventional and unique film into an entirely conventional mainstreamish film that ties everything up in a relatively tidy bow. It€™s a shame that it ended so weakly, it felt a little lost by the final shot as if it had no idea where to go so it ends on a contrived sentimental note, which is honestly a true shame as it felt like it betrayed the original promise of the first two acts. Ultimately The Hunter is a beautiful little film bolstered by assured direction from Daniel Nettheim and a great performance from Dafoe, that unfortunately undermines it€™s excellence in the home stretch by opting to take the easy ending, instead of taking the story in a number of more interesting ways. Still, despite this, because of how captivated I found myself throughout the film and the powerful atmosphere it evoked... I can€™t bring myself to give it less than 4 stars. The Hunter opens in Australia on October 6th. Hopefully the U.K. and U.S. will get it in 2012.
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