Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Hunter

Title: The Hunter
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Released: 2012
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Finn Woodlock, Morgana Davies, Sam Neil

Plot: Martin (Dafoe) a mercenary hired by the biotech company Red Leaf to hunt down and recover tissue and organ samples of the Tasmanian Tiger, which has long since thought to be extinct. Arriving in Tasmania under the alias of a university professor, he sets up a temporary residence with single mother Lucy (O’Connor) and her two young and seemingly feral children Sass (Davies) and the mute Bike (Woodlock), whose father disappeared in the wilderness eight months previous hunting for the same Tasmanian Tiger which Martin seeks.

Review: Possibly one of the more low key releases, but non the less important releases of this 2012, it is a film much like “Lost In Translation” in the fact that it is hard to make sound appealing and a film which it would seem that director Daniel Nettheim has taken the most cue’s from as he crafts a simple plotted but none the less engaging film.

Based on the book of the same name by Julia Leigh, it is far from being one the most action packed films but at the same time far from boring as we follow Martin on his quest for the elusive tiger. From the start though its clear that he is a man who seems most happy when he is isolated from the rest of humanity as seem in the opening, as he complains about being kept waiting in his hotel room and despite being in Paris cares little for sight seeing while clearly having long since grown used to a life on the road as shown by how he sets out his personal effects in his hotel room. Still despite this solitary existence he has chosen for himself, it is also clear he was not prepared for some of the aspects of this latest assignment, as he is left horrified by the rundown condition of his latest dwellings which inturn soon has him running for the local inn seeking alternative accommodation.

Elswhere the locals are less than welcoming, as they associate him with the local environmentalists or “greenies” whose current protests currently threaten the livelihood of the local loggers, who in turn ensure that the threat of violence is never far away, even more so when they are potentially linked with the disappearance of Sass and Bike’s father. Realising that he has little choice but to stay at his original accommodation, he soon finds himself bonding with his host family in particular the children whose fathers disappearance has sent their mother into a medicated downward spiral leaving them with almost no adult supervision outside of the occasional visit from the local guide Jack (Neill), who is from the start and throughout especially suspicious of Martin, especially with his loyalties being seemingly divided between both the environmentalists and loggers.

It is only when Martin sets out into the Tasmanian wilderness that the film really  is at its best, let alone most stunning as panoramic shots and extensive helicopter footage add to the sense of isolation, especially with the shots of Martin walking across the plains with nothing but wilderness and harsh terrain in seemingly all directions. This sense of how remote this territory only further reinforced when Jack points out during Martins first trek that most of the surrounding land hasn’t even been mapped outside of satellite imagery. It is also during these treks that Martins real skills are showcased as despite his desire to surround himself with the comforts of modern technology at the home, out here when at his most focused on his mission he takes on what could almost be seen as a complete personality shift, as he is shown as an expert in tracking, setting traps and surviving on backwoods skills, all believably portrayed by Defoe who worked with bush survival experts to prepare for the role, which clearly pays off here as he once more truly embodies the character of Martin.

During the treks the film provides most of it’s drama, not only with the hunt and the excitement of the smallest of clues that Martin is on the right path, but also from the fact that it frequently alluded to that he is never quite alone, with the discovery of additional traps and warning shot only furthering his paranoia, especially when he can’t be sure if he himself is being tracked by the loggers or even his own employers, even more so when he starts finding clues to what really happened to Sass and Bike’s father. This tension is expertly cranked up as the film progresses, with small details and events rather than sudden surprise twists, but none the less effective as the audience’s attention is firmly held by director Nettheim, even when it is essentially just Martin wondering around the dense woods and rocky mountains. What is especially interesting is noticeable lack of voice over which I’d expected during Martin’s treks, especially with him traveling alone Nettheim instead opts to shoot these scenes in eerie silence and only a spattering of minimalist soundtrack, as any internal monologue is left to be played out by Martin’s actions.

In between his treks Martin slowly brings order to the Armstrong house, as his bond only grows with the family, forcing Lucy to kick her addiction to prescription meds, while repairing the generator which like the rest of the house has long since fallen into disrepair, while also building a bond with the mute Bike, who may hold the secret to the whereabouts of the elusive tiger, while the family themselves slowly begin to provide Martin with a purpose outside of his work, while providing the film with many of it’s simpler moments of pleasure such as when Martin fixes the speakers hung in the tree and floods the surrounding area with the sounds of his favourite opera, to the ecstatic excitement of the family.

True this might not be the most action packed movie, but it is absolutely stunning to watch, with the human drama and the power of one man’s obsession and his humanity being restored is griping enough without feeling the up the action quota, as director Nettheim proves perfectly here that in this case certainly that less is certainly more.

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