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Hunter, The


Stars: Willem Dafoe, Frances O'Connor, Sam Neill, Morgana Davies, Finn Woodlock, Jacek Koman, Callan Mulvey, John Brumpton, Dan Wyllie, Sullivan Stapleton, Jamie Timony.

Director: Daniel Nettheim

Failed US Presidential candidate Al Gore. who found a desperately-needed new career by proselytizing about global warming in ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ might well approve of the ecological concerns that (partially) drive the narrative of an enjoyable thriller whose use of attractive Tasmanian locations holds the eye even when the story – which has hard-assed mercenary Dafoe ultimately getting in touch with his inner kindness – loses some of its impact.

The screenplay (written by Alice Addison and based on the novel by Australian Julia Leigh, who wrote and directed the sleazy Sleeping Beauty) sees Dafoe hired by a dicey US biotech company to travel to Tasmania and try to find and bring back a specimen of the Tasmanian tiger, which may or may not be extinct, so that its blood, skin, fur and organs can be used to extract invaluable DNA and toxins.

Posing as a university researcher, Dafoe heads down under and ventures into the Tasmanian bush to find his quarry, while staying at a shack with no electricity (the generator is broken) with two young kids (Davies and Woodlock) whose mother O’Connor has been comatose under the effect of drugs since her zoologist husband vanished in the bush.

As he slowly softens in his possibly necessarily imposed rigid attitudes to people and life in general, first under the influence of the children and later when he gets O’Connor off her medication and she returns to motherhood and normal life, Dafoe’s search for the elusive tiger progresses and brings him into conflict with local ecologists trying to save the unspoiled countryside…

Dafoe, bearded and inherently sinister at first, anchors the story, with valuable contributions from O’Connor, Neill (who turns out to be overly concerned with O’Connor’s well being)
and serendipitously un-cute Davis and Woodlock.

Director Daniel Nettheim makes vivid use of fascinating locations (photographed by Robert Humphreys to frame a fascinating two part story – one, a thriller bringing Dafoe up against something more sinister than a possibly extinct creature (seen for real in fascinating black and white archive footage) and hostile locals with their own agenda, in a well-wrought and happily far from po-faced ‘Big Business vs Save the Planet’ storyline.

For the record, the end credits warn us that 'Traps and snares are illegal in Tasmania'. Which makes Dafoe's ultimate reformation from mercenary to nice guy a tad more potent since his character has no worries about setting metal traps all over the bush in the hope of snaring his prey.

Alan Frank

Australia 2011. UK Distributor: Artificial Eye. Colour by deluxe.
101 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 01 Jul 2012