The Hunter (2011)

There is no doubt that these had been made by a Tasmanian or pouched wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus), a sort of marsupial wolf, which, by chance, is striped like a tiger on the middle of the back, rump, thighs, and tail… It walks on its fingers, it puts the whole sole of the foot on the ground, and so leaves relatively larger footprints… It’s Latin name means “the pouched dog with the wolf’s head”.

-Bernard Heuvelman, On the Track of Unknown Animals, 1965.

In tone, The Hunter (2011) reminds me of Werner Herzog’s film based on an aboriginal tale Where the Green Ants Dream (Wo die grünen Ameisen träumen) (1984), which used the Australian outback as a central character. The Hunter does the same, weaving the striking Tasmanian landscape against a storyline of greed, corruption and deceit. The Hunter is a character study and carried by Willem Dafoe’s compelling performance as Martin David.

Dafoe plays a soldier of fortune type on contract with Red Leaf Bio-Tech, a company tracking down a rare (thought to be extinct) marsupial canine called a Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine. Early on we learn that Martin David appreciates warm baths and classical music. His quarry resides in rural Tasmania. Thylacines actually existed and were hunted to extinction during the beginning of the 20th-Century. The last specimens died in a zoo in the early 1930’s. Hunter Martin David is in pursuit of the last Thylacine.

Along the way he befriends two young children and an estranged mother. Her naturalist husband disappeared in the deep Tasmanian forest and never returned. We also meet local loggers who assume David is a “greenie” protecting the profitable forests. Tension is set in the early stages of the film.

Like Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe is always fun whether he is ice-fishing in Maine with John Lurie in the underrated and short-lived series Fishing with John (1998), hamming it up as Max Shreck in Shadow of the Vampire (2000), hilarious as Klaus Daimler in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) or in an amusing bit-part as an electrician in Basquiat (1996). His presence seems to elevate films from the humdrum to cult status. To quote Steve Buscemi [commenting on actor Bronson Dudley in Trees Lounge (1996)]: I could watch this guy all day.

He’s at his best in The Hunter. This film takes a leftist stance; however it’s done in such a beautiful manner I didn’t recognize it as a political film. To me it was all about Dafoe and the striking scenery and his relationship with this troubled family. Director Daniel Nettheim has crafted a superb eco-thriller (one sequence gave me sweaty palms) and one of the best films I’ve seen yet all year. Kudos also to DOP Robert Humphreys who elegantly captured the Thylacine on film. Or was it CGI?

B. Heuvelman. 1965. On the Track of Unknown Animals, Hill & Wang, NY. pg. 123-124.

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