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‘The Hunter’ is beautiful and thoughtful, but a touch too cold

The Hunter

Directed by Daniel Nettheim

Written by Alice Addison

Australia, 2012

There’s so much talk about expectations in movies today. Going into a film titled The Hunter, with its poster featuring Willem Dafoe aiming an impressively large rifle, might lead one to expect a violent action thriller. The film delivers action and thrills to a moderate degree, in the same way that Drive had a moderate amount of driving in it. But it is not that sort of picture, and viewers who can set that expectation aside will be all the better for it.

Dafoe plays some sort of gun-for-hire tasked with traveling to Tasmania and returning with biological samples of the Tasmanian tiger, a species long thought extinct. He approaches this job with a businesslike calm that makes everything look effortless, from navigating the gorgeous Tasmanian countryside to lying to the local environmentalists about his use of illegal traps and snares.

Like Drive, The Hunter is spare and minimalist, with long dialogue-free stretches as Dafoe ponders how to catch an animal that may well be the last of its kind on earth. The local conflict between the “greenies” and the loggers whose jobs are being endangered by their efforts is presented flatly and without the editorial comment that many of today’s advocacy documentaries might insert.

Where The Hunter comes up short is when emotions are finally forced into play. Dafoe becomes entangled with the family that rents a room to him between his hunting excursions, and while the acting is uniformly good, those scenes just don’t carry quite enough weight.

It is necessary for Dafoe to have been shaken up by his exposure to these people, and he appears to be slightly shaken, but not nearly shaken enough. As a result, a tragic plot twist late in the film doesn’t come off as sad as it needs to; the response to it is more along the lines of, “aw, that’s a shame.” This is a film with some power, enough to make it an overall positive viewing experience, but not as much as it would like to have.

-Mark Young