Review - An Intelligent Eco-Thriller with Terrific Performances ("The Hunter")
Opening (coincidentally) during the San Francisco International Film Festival, “The Hunter” would fit right in among the 175 films being shown there. This Australian film, filmed mostly in Tasmania, stars the great character actor Willem Dafoe (in a rare leading role) as Martin David, the title character. David is engaged by a multinational corporation to track down the last surviving “Tasmanian Tiger” so that they may have exclusive rights to its DNA. David must do this under the noses of environmentalists trying to stop deforestation and the locals whose jobs and livelihoods rely on it.
Masquerading as a scientist doing research, Martin finds himself quartered at the house of a local activist’s widow (Frances O’Connor) and her two children (Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock.) Slowly, he finds himself entwined in their lives and finds a disturbing connection between his current employer and the late activist. Martin’s contact in the community (Sam Neill) is wary of their growing relationship and sets things in motion that will have a devastating impact on all involved.
This is a beautiful, exciting film with nuanced performances from all the players. Dafoe’s character doesn’t say much, but his cragged face is as expressive a tool as his voice. Lengthy scenes are often dialogue-free, letting the surroundings and Martin’s actions speak for themselves in a visual language. The juvenile performers are quite good, and Sam Neill is a welcome presence in any film.
Part character study, part eco-thriller, the film does not beat you over the head with its environmental message. It manages to present somewhat of a balanced view of the debate between economy and environment (at least with regards to the problems of the locals. Multinational Corporations are ALWAYS evil.) PETA may take exception to Martin’s final actions with regards to his original assignment, but after some thought they might be hard pressed to come up with any better solution. It’s the kind of film that leads to great discussion and debate afterwards.
Opening 4/27/12 at Landmark's Bridge Theatre in San Francisco and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley. Check your local theatre listings.