The Hunter (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Red Leaf, a military biotech company, hired Martin (Willem Dafoe), a mercenary, to go to Tasmania and hunt an animal for its DNA. The animal of interest was the Tasmanian Tiger which was thought to be extinct but reports claimed that people had seen it in the woods. It may be the last of its kind and competition among companies was fierce so getting to it first was paramount to Martin’s assignment. His mission turned a bit more complicated, however, when the company chose for him to stay in a house with a depressed woman, Lucy (Frances O’Connor), and her two children, Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock). Based on the novel by Julia Leigh, “The Hunter,” based on the screenplay by Alice Addison, had a meticulous pace, almost verging on somnolence during its slowest sections, but when the big sequences arrived, it was like a jolt to the spine. Martin was a character that preferred to be alone with his thoughts, his work, and his classical music. Other than that, we knew next to nothing about him which was excellent because it made him unpredictable. He was so secretive, even his desktop wallpaper was blank. I appreciated such small details because the screenplay’s reluctance to reveal made me want to look closer and think a little bit more about the distinction between, for instance, body language and behavior. This was important because the eventual bonding that occurred between Martin and the children, arguably the heart of the picture, was, although not always subtle, had varying levels of complexity. I enjoyed the idea that even though he was a father figure to the children, Bike and Sass believed that their father was still alive out there in the wilderness and he would return soon. Dafoe’s performance then became crucial because he had to put them at arms length–he was doing a job after all–while at the same time the thought that maybe it was all right to allow someone in and get to know him on a personal level sat on the back of his brain. Dafoe couldn’t afford to look or come off as passive even though his character was supposed to be used to taciturnity. I was sensitive to this because I looked in his eyes each time the languorous pacing took over which would most likely prove a challenge to anybody. As Martin, like the Mona Lisa, the more I looked at him, the more it seemed like he was thinking about something. Furthermore, the cinematography needed to be singled out. Every time the camera pulled back and forced us to pay attention to the natural beauty of the Tasmanian landscape, my eyes danced. I wondered how it was like to actually be in that breathtaking environment. More importantly, other than the expectation of Martin and the endangered animal sharing an intense scene, how was it going to be utilized, if it were, to solve the eventual conflict of interest between the professional and the personal? One of the most engaging scenes involved an expertly executed sequence between Martin and another hunter (Callan Mulvey) in the snowy and rocky terrain of the wilderness. I wished it had more scenes like that; I actually shouted directions at the screen because the suspense worked my nerves in the best way possible. Directed by Daniel Nettheim, “The Hunter” oozed confidence in terms of what it wanted to deliver. So regardless of the leisurely portions that would surely repel a handful of viewers, it had rewards for those willing to put in a bit of patience.