"A subtle and creative piece of film making..."

Earlier this year we witnessed Liam Neeson take on wolves in the The Grey, and now, on the other side of the world it's time for Willem Dafoe to tackle nature, as he flies to Australia to hunt down what is believed to be the last Tasmanian tiger, in Daniel Nettheim's minimalist thriller The Hunter.

Dafoe plays Martin David, a mercenary from Europe who has been designated the task of hunting down the almost extinct Tasmanian Tiger by a biotechnology company, who are seeking the animal’s DNA, hoping that Martin is able to capture and kill what is believed to be the last of its kind on the planet. Arriving under the guise of a professor merely conducting scientific research on the tiger, he is stationed at the family abode of Lucy (Frances O'Connor) and her two young children - a family broken since the mysterious disappearance of their father.

Declining the assistance of Jack (Sam Neill), a friend of Lucy's and her family, Martin is faced with the wrath of the locals, unhappy with his appearance in their small town. Regardless, he sets off to the wilderness with the mission in hand requiring his full focus, but the seemingly insensitive man's isolation is compromised as he forms a strong relationship with Lucy and her kids, leading Martin to start questioning what he had initially set out to do.

Based on a novel by Julia Leigh - who brought us the recent erotic drama Sleeping Beauty - The Hunter is a subtle and creative piece of film making, bearing somewhat of a similar feel to Anton Corbijn's The American. There is a brilliantly tense atmosphere emanating from this feature also, as the mysteriousness of Martin's mission leaves you questioning everything that goes on around him, as you are constantly anticipating something bad happening.

Such minimalism is presented effectively by the cinematography, depicting the Tasmanian wilderness with a serenity and isolation, which works well as a reflection of Martin's character. This picture is beautifully shot, and some of the background images are picturesque, drawing you away from the actual story. However, the narrative doesn't correlate with the mise-en-scene as, despite the quite conservative approach taken by Nettheim, there are a few too many separate story-lines running at once, and rather than thrive within its own minimalism, instead The Hunter almost purposefully works against it by simply attempting too much.

The greatest aspect to this film, however, is the performance of Dafoe. A seasoned professional, there are few actors who could hold down a role such as this one, as the character of Martin appears in almost every single scene. His somewhat dodgy accent aside (best described as being just "European"), Dafoe turns in an excellent performance, displaying both a merciless side and a quite modest one in equal measure. Such conflicting personality traits are required for the character, as at points we see him setting traps and trying to kill an innocent creature, and next we see him playing dad with the children, and Dafoe encapsulates both aspects.

The performance by O'Connor is also respectable, whilst Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock are endearing as her children. As for Neil, his part is mostly unnecessary, though it is a treat seeing him out in the wilderness again, although it's just a shame it isn't accompanied by a John Williams score and a host of charging dinosaurs. 

Despite a somewhat tedious, barren spell during the middle stages of this picture, The Hunter remains a poignant and affecting film, beautifully shot and arranged. I'm just left disappointed that Tasmanian creatures look like regular animals. I was expecting something a little fatter, that darts around at a super speed and makes noises as though it's walking home a bit drunk on a Saturday night. I should probably stop watching cartoons.