Along with the “select” few and some ticket owners, Yani and I watched The Hunter last week – a new Australian movie starring Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor and Sam Neill. The session was attended by the director, Daniel Nettheim and his brother, Matt Nettheim – the stills photographer in the movie. There was a Q&A session at the end of the movie which provided the audience the chance to know more about the story and the movie production.
The Hunter is sold as a psychological thriller and I came guarded as I thought I would be up for a psychologically manipulative storyline that would really suck me into the movie. Unfortunately watching The Hunter is almost like joining a conversation twenty minutes after it started – you miss the background of the story and you just have to go along with whatever is given. The story is predominantly about Martin David (Willem Dafoe) – a Canadian hunter posing as a university researcher. He is commissioned to hunt the last Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) in Tasmania. Although officially extinct, there are suspicions that at least there is one Thylacine alive in a remote part of Tasmania. He is asked to collect the DNA and blood sample by a secretive company called Red Leaf Corporation. In an alien environment, surrounded by hostile loggers and suspicious greenies, he befriends a hippiesque scientist, Lucy (Frances O’Connor) along with her children, Sass and Bike. Their father went missing in the forest, also in search of the Thylacine. To reach the remote spot, Martin is assisted by a mysterious local, Jack Mindy (Sam Neill).
Although The Hunter sounds very alluring since it taps into the mystique of the Thylacines, the holes in the storyline make the movie less satisfactory. I haven’t read the book (authored by Julia Leigh) so I can’t comment whether it is much clearer in the original work. Who is Martin David? What kind of hunter or mercenary is he? It’s as if the filmmakers brushed questions like these aside and hoped that the audience would just take things as given. That said, The Hunter isn’t a bad movie at all – it just doesn’t reach the potential it could’ve had.
Dafoe is convincing as the stoic and mysterious Martin – although I am still unclear who he is and what kind of character he is. Sam Neill is under-utilised in the movie and so is Frances O’Connor. The children pretty much steal the show whenever they are on the screen – Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock) look so natural with their acting. In terms of direction, Daniel manages to capture the beauty and the ruggedness of Tasmanian terrains – the scenes where the rolling clouds hover above the forest are so beautiful. He also cleverly includes some songs which fit the tone of the movie perfectly – such as Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and Vivaldi’s “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”. However, not to be nitpicky, I find the movie score too heavy and too dramatic – you would know a danger is about to happen just by noticing the change in the cinematic score.
So there you go, I wish I liked the movie a lot more, but unfortunately it ends up like a rather tasteless meal. The ingredients are top-notch, it’s just that the cooking and presentation are under par.