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Review: The Hunter (2012)

The Hunter (2012)

Directed by: Daniel Nettheim

Premise: A hunter (Willem Dafoe) travels to Tasmania on behalf of a biotech company to hunt a species believed to be extinct. While there he bonds with a local family and finds himself caught in a conflict between environmentalists and loggers.

What Works: The Hunter is a thoughtful film. Channeling movies like The Deer Hunter and The American, The Hunter is a movie about a man placed in a situation and trying to do the right thing when it isn’t always clear what the right thing actually is. The story places its lead character, played by Willem Dafoe, in a difficult situation as he is given a task to accomplish but finds his assignment conflicting with other priorities. While hunting his quarry, the title character stays with a broken family; the father is missing, the mother is paralyzed with grief, and the children are uncared for. Dafoe’s character steps into this void and takes on the role of caregiver, providing for the children and restoring the mother to health. In this, The Hunter has some very strong scenes in which the title character develops a relationship with the children. The film and the character do not go out of the way to make a point about doing the right thing or milk the pathos appeal of these scenes. Dafoe is very good in that respect; he gives a naturalistic performance and his interaction with the children has a lot of reality to it. That naturalistic quality extends throughout the rest of the film. The Hunter is a very well made picture; the filmmakers photograph the wilderness in a way that captures the cold and the grit of the wild and its soundtrack uses a minimal amount of score, emphasizing the natural sounds of the setting. This quiet quality about The Hunter makes it a pensive film but it moves along well enough and does not get saddled in existential sidebars.

What Doesn’t: The Hunter is a good film but it is not a great one. To start, it is unclear what the protagonist wants; similar films like The Grey give the lead character the goal of survival and test his abilities against various obstacles. The Hunter does give its lead character a task but that task is largely disconnected from the substance of the middle of the film. Most of the second act of the story is about the relationship between the title character and the kids and although those scenes are heartwarming it is unclear why the story spends so much time on the domestic issues. That is especially problematic because the way the film resolves that relationship is very unsatisfying and even something of a copout. The Hunter also suffers from incomplete subplots. The relationship between the hunter and the children’s mother doesn’t go anywhere and the ongoing conflict between the environmentalists and the loggers occasional percolates but then doesn’t come to a meaningful conclusion.
Bottom Line: The Hunter is a worthwhile film for those who enjoy wilderness tales. It leaves too many of its narrative strands unresolved but it does have some impressive filmmaking qualities and a very good performance by Willem Dafoe.

Episode: #384 (April 15, 2012)