SXSW Film: The Hunter

Ever since I was a child I have been drawn to films about the struggle between man and nature. There is just something majestic about the thought of pure survival on a cerebral level. The ability of one man to face overwhelming odds and survive based on his knowledge of the land. Who isn’t into that? This is why I was drawn to The Hunter, though I came to find a film that was more than I expected.

The Hunter
isn’t just a tale of man vs wild, it’s more than that. What the story of The Hunter tries to convey is that of man vs humanity and what better way to tell that story than through the eyes of Willem Dafoe (Antichrist, Spider-Man). Dafoe’s character Martin David is a mercenary hired by the military biotech corporation Red Leaf to hunt and collect DNA from the once thought extinct Tasmanian tiger. If you didn’t gather from the “military biotech” part of their corporation, the plan isn’t to repopulate the world with the beautiful Tasmanian Tiger, but rather to weaponize a portion of the tiger’s natural defense system. This is just the job for the heartless and solitary Martin. That is until he meets Lucy Armstrong and her two adorable children. This is when Martin starts unraveling the secret behind Armstrong’s environmentalist husband’s disappearance and begins to see that the DNA of a tiger may be worth more than his own life to obtain.

When you hear the terms weaponize, military, and biotech in the same sentence you can bet that you’re in for a little bit of mystery and intrigue all wrapped up in a thriller-like sensibility. That is exactly what first time feature film Director Daniel Nettheim delivers. Allowing the film to develop at its own pace, Nettheim adapts Julia Leigh’s novel with the grace and beauty it deserves. I have to applaud Nettheim for letting the story develop at a slower pace, with a film like The Hunter it could be easy to get lost in its action and cut the lingering moments of character development. Though there are moments that I wish Nettheim had gone deeper into the motivation of the story’s protagonist Martin. While his over all moral stand is left up to the viewer to interpret up until the film’s closing moments, it would have been nice to see more of the inner workings of the character developed by Dafoe.

It’s in Dafoe’s performance that The Hunter really shines reminding you why he is so sought after by indie artists and mainstream filmmakers alike. There has never been a film that Dafoe has not blown me away in and The Hunter is no different. There is just something special about the way that he leaves you wanting more and satisfied all in the same moment. As Martin David, Dafoe is allowed to disappear into a character with emotions that flow into a dam of retention and it takes true talent to portray feelings like that through film. This battle of internal struggle sends the viewer to the edge and by the end of the picture leaves them with a resolution that may force a quivering lip or two.

The Hunter isn’t a film for everyone and it does have its issues, most of which lie with the lack of character development. Just a few more bits of information about the company Martin worked for and this issue would have been laid to rest. This problem is made up by the film’s inner monologue about the battle of a man to do what’s right in his own eyes. It’s never a story that finds itself on the left or the right, but lives more in the gray of moral fiber. That is what I loved most about the film. While the movie does take a stance about environmentalism, it says the same things about corporation greed, and ends up focusing more on life than the moments that seemingly perpetuate it forward. Martin has no issues with setting traps and killing animals, but in the same vein he never struggles with the things he feels are morally correct and standing up for what he ultimately believes in.  The Hunter will shake you and make you angry, but most of all it will make you feel something more than entertained. The Hunter is the type of film that forces a discussion and when the viewer is left with that I don’t know how you can ask for more.

I give The Hunter 4 “Life and death decisions” out of 5


By Ryan Davis

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