THE HUNTER Review

Willem Dafoe has always been one of the more out of place actors in the Hollywood pantheon. His filmography certainly allows him the rights to sit with the big dogs (Spider-Man, Platoon) yet Dafoe the man has always chosen to skew a little closer to the outskirts. Over the years he has made several, and I mean several, indie and art house films that few likely saw. He seems to always find solace in playing characters that possess darkly eccentric sides to them. It is not only a staple of the actors persona but it has infused every character he has taken on. This is certainly one way to become an engaging and in many instances, provocative actor that lets the audience know that if he chooses to play a role there will certainly be some kind of mysterious intrigue about it and hopefully about the film as well. That seemed to be the case with his latest titled The Hunter. Based on a 1999 book from author and filmmaker Julia Leigh (Sleeping Beauty) the film tells a very simple and straightforward story that keeps its own rhythm and minds its own beats that in the end comes up feeling more boring than insightful. It is one of those small films that pulls you in with its engaging premise in the trailer and then as you watch the film you begin to realize what you saw in the trailer was every moment that was engaging and has now been spread over the nearly two-hour run time. Despite another engaging and invested performance by Dafoe the film itself cannot escape from under the weight it is burdened with.

Martin (Willem Dafoe) doesn't take well to the locals
after arriving in town for work.
What might that engaging story be you ask? Well, this is how they get you, fair warning. We are introduced to Martin (Dafoe) a mercenary posing as a scientist who is sent to the Tasmanian wilderness on a hunt for a tiger believed to be extinct. So far so good? He is contracted by a mysterious company that is after the genetic material this animal produces (it has something to do with a toxin that can paralyze its prey). Mysterious and exciting right? When he arrives at his destination he becomes very well acquainted with the wife and two children of what seems to be his predecessor. The kids patiently wait on their father to return while their mother sleeps her life away knowing the truth. Are you completely sold? I was too. It has all the elements of a fantastic story, action, mystery, love, loss. How this ends up being one big borefest is beyond me but through thick or thin director Daniel Nettheim, known mainly for his TV work in his native Australia, prevails in focusing far too much on the dark brooding nature of the central character and his surroundings rather than squeezing every ounce of life out of the multiple plot lines he has going on. I am not saying a nice character study is a waste of time because it doesn't expose the action aspect of the title or flesh out the love story with steamy encounters. No, I want him to use his material wisely because it feels throughout he is actually trying too hard to hold back. He is trying to be too serious. The cinematography  is grand and the shots create a symbolic kind of pattern with a wonderful solemn score but all of this means nothing if the story doesn't keep us entranced.

"You said there weren't going to be any dinosaurs in
this movie Sam."
There are certainly moments in the film that keep us on the edge, hoping for more. Hoping that maybe this time the film might take off and really get going, but it never does. The Hunter just sits there and instead of developing into a narrative where we care what happens to Dafoe's Martin it instead follows the not too beaten path of not much happening. At all. I hate to come down on movies such as this because it is clear everyone involved was really trying to make a thought provoking piece of cinema that didn't fall into the traps of the predictable. I would like to have seen that movie had they not been afraid to tell this same story while not having to concern themselves about whether or not it would place the movie too far out of the genre, or the reputation it was trying to garner. It is as if the lines have been drawn so thick that to qualify as an indie/arthouse type film you can't have one too many bullets fired but you can certainly have an abundance of extended shots where the protagonist stares just off camera so long the audience should be able to read his thoughts. The tone I felt from the movie as the credits began to roll was one that was forced. It was as if I should like the movie, praise it even, simply because it didn't necessarily follow the pattern of a typical B-movie. The fact of the matter though is that I didn't really enjoy the film. I was bored the majority of the time, but I really wanted to like the movie. Besides Dafoe's committed performance there are a few surprises along the way in that Sam Neill shows up in a juicy little supporting role as does Frances O'Connor (A.I.) and it is a delight to see them take on such light parts in such a random film. In a weird way it compliments the tone just right. The performances are what hold this movie together. This is Dafoe's show though and no matter how many times I wanted to give up on Martin, I still had to see where this quest was taking him.

Lucy (Frances O'Connor) is trying to figure out her plac
in the world after the loss of her husband.
Where the story does end up going certainly isn't something you might see in one of those B-movie's but then again it isn't exactly revelatory to the point where we are truly surprised or taken aback either. Martin's quest for this elusive creature is certainly supposed to be some kind of metaphor for the relationships he begins to develop with the family and how they grow. That the companionship of those other human beings you care for and ultimately come to depend on in your life can sometimes be elusive as a...Tasmanian Tiger? I don't know. I'm not sure what exactly the film was trying to say, but I guarantee you that is the analysis someone who claims to have really dug the film will come out with. I guess I can be okay with that and I know it is not that animal specifically in terms of what it is but in terms of how it is believed to be extinct and that the writer at the time in her life when she wrote the book might have believed true love to be an extinct emotion. Something that people only make up to fool themselves into happiness. I get it and I'm certainly not going to criticize anyone who might be in a similar place and takes more away from the movie than I did. It's all relative as they say and no other cliched phrase could describe The Hunter better. A movie that is trying its darndest to escape every trace of those pesky little things. What the film can teach us though is that while it is always could to strive for originality and a new way of telling a story if the cliche applies that is probably because it's true. Embrace it for what it is because under all that brooding it might be what you truly are and there is nothing wrong with that.