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ADVANCE: The Hunter - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: The Hunter
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

The Hunter starts out rather clunky with expositional dialogue, but in the end it pays to stick with it. At least it does for people who might be into a movie like this, which isn’t going to be everyone. It's that rare kind of thriller that is very quiet, yet not weighed down with too much dread. Maybe just enough dread. There's a lot of following Willem Dafoe alone in the Tasmanian woods.

Dafoe plays Martin David, a man hired by a biotech company to track down and collect organ and tissue samples from an animal widely thought to be extinct: the "Tasmanian tiger." We get to see black and white footage of this animal at the beginning of the film, from the early 20th century, and it is exotic indeed: it looks very much like a cross between a wolf and a tiger. It has stripes, but only on its lower back and tail.

It turns out the locals aren't all that fond of Americans. Martin gets a bit of harassment here and there. It doesn't help that he rents a room in the home of a man who is also a foreigner with a bad reputation among the locals, due to his outspoken opposition to logging on the Tasmanian island -- the one industry that keeps people in the nearby town employed. This man is never seen, however; he's gone missing under mysterious circumstances, and his wife, Lucy (Frances O'Connor, probably not seen by many since she played Haley Joel Osment's mother in A.I.), is depressed and overmedicated and constantly asleep in bed. Her two children somehow manage the house on their own, albeit with the occasional help of an apparent family friend, Jack Mindy (Sam Neill).

Jack serves as Martin's guide up into the Tasmanian wilderness, which Martin claims to be for the purpose of studying Tasmanian Devils. Indeed he -- and we -- get to see plenty of those odd creatures, which apparently are plentiful on the island. But Martin gets to a certain point and lets Jack know he'd like to continue on his own; easily more than half of the rest of the film follows him alone around the woods, attempting to lure and catch a Tasmanian tiger.

The more he moves back and forth from the woods to Lucy's house, however, the more suspicious the locals become. No one thinks Martin is up to any good, and really, he kind of isn't. But we are clearly meant to believe Martin to be a fundamentally good man: when he discovers the medications Lucy has been taking, he takes her off of them and, in time, starts to develop a tentative relationship with her.

There's a fair amount of mystery to The Hunter, although whether or not there is really one last tiger out there isn't part of it. It becomes increasingly clear that Martin himself is being tracked by someone, and this is where the tension builds, slowly but effectively.

The Hunter is different, I'll give it that. And Tasmania is certainly an area of the world that does not get a lot of air play, so the landscapes and wildlife alone are a fascinating element to the story. A lot of the acting is delivered in an almost curious deadpan, though. It's not bad, per se -- but there's nothing here to serve as any kind acting highlight reel. Would so many of these people really be that subdued? The only ones who get remotely animated are the few agitated locals. Well, and the occasional devil or kangaroo.

It's not exactly a spoiler to say that Martin does eventually come across a Tasmanian tiger in the wild. I mention it mostly because of its impact, which, in the context of its moment in the film, is fairly significant. There's an undercurrent of an ecological message to this script, as much clunky dialogue as it may have (which actually gets better as it goes along), and you just can't help but admire the animal, and feel sad about the demise of its species.

That said, there's very little in the way of genuine action here. This is not an exciting movie. It's engaging and thought-provoking, but perhaps could have benefited from being more straightforward about its themes. But for patient viewers, it still has its rewards.

Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill walk through the Australian woods in THE HUNTER.

Overall: B

Opens April 20.
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