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The Hunter (2011)
Rated R

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O'Connor, and Sam Neill

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

Willem Dafoe is an actor who, despite his craggy features, can alternately play unconventionally handsome leading men as well as near-freakish villains. In Daniel Nettheim's The Hunter, Dafoe plays Martin David, a mercenary hunter who is hired by Red Leaf, a biotech company, to hunt down and obtain genetic material from the Tasmanian Tiger. The problem is that the the tiger is long thought to have been extinct, with the last known specimen dying in captivity in 1936. Red Leaf wants to obtain the exclusive rights to the Tasmanian Tiger's genetic material as it could be worth a fortune if the animal could be cloned.

Martin travels from Paris to the Tasmanian wilderness posing as a scientist researching Tasmanian Devils. His presence in the small out-of-the-middle-of-nowhere town immediately is perceived as a threat by local loggers. Anyone who shows up from overseas tends to be working for the "greenies", environmentalists who threaten to halt the logging industry and therefore cost them jobs. David's lodging arrangements also give Martin pause as he's given room and board with a woman named Lucy (Frances O'Connor) and her two precocious children, Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock).  Lucy's husband disappeared while doing environmental work in the Tasmanian wilderness the previous summer.

As Martin spends more time venturing from Lucy's house into the wilderness and back again, his relationships with his employer as well as Lucy and the children are evolving into something unexpected as he learns more about them.  

The Hunter reminded me of another fish-out-of-water character study: Anton Corbijn's The American, starring George Clooney.  Both films are slow-paced but engaging documents of lone-wolf men who embark on what seems to be a clear-cut mission only to find themselves mired in an ethical and existential quicksand that forces them to reevaluate their priorities.  While The Hunter doesn't feature the overt sexuality of The American, the overall tone is quite similar.  

Benefiting enormously from the cinematography of Robert Humphries, director Nettheim does a great job juxtaposing the beauty of the Tasmanian wilderness and the cold blooded human behavior that many perceive as "civilized."  Defoe's performance is outstanding and his internal conflict is the true centerpiece of the film.    

The Hunter
's slow and methodical pacing may disappoint those who are awaiting a big action confrontation between Martin and the locals.  And, this is definitely not an action-packed, man vs. nature story like The Grey but more a man vs. mankind tale.  It's only real fault is that the ending feels a bit forced even with the film's patient and meticulous set-up.

Trivia: The Tasmanian Tiger, also known as the Tasmanian Wolf, thylacine or Thylacinus cynocephalus, the latter which is Greek for "dog-headed pouched one", is an extinct species of carnivorous marsupial. It is so called a Tasmanian Tiger because of the stripes on its back.  (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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