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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Hunter

Willem Dafoe comes to terms with the Tasmanian wilderness in this adaptation of a novel by Sleeping Beauty director Julia Leigh.
By Zacha Rosen
October 03, 2011
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The Hunter

Willem Dafoe comes to terms with the Tasmanian wilderness in this adaptation of a novel by Sleeping Beauty director Julia Leigh.
By Zacha Rosen
October 03, 2011
  shares

Pensive and distant, the Hunter falls squarely into the stylistic tradition of Lantana and Look Both Ways, carrying a familiar thread of a domestic world threatened by the decisions that follow on from living a detached, professional life. Based on a novel by Sleeping Beauty's author-turned-director Julia Leigh, the story follows quiet professional Martin David (Willem Dafoe) as he hunts through Tasmania's wilderness looking for a rumoured last Tasmanian tiger, charged with returning tissue samples to a mysterious and powerful biotech company. Billeted with the family of a missing environmental activist, his priorities begin to shift, even while he keeps his distance from them. The family's eccentric dwelling is beautifully shot by cinematographer Robert Humphreys, and brought to life by the strong sound design of Liam Egan and Sam Petty. David's relationship with the children (played by Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock) is the film's centrepiece, and life in this home owns to some of the most human moments in it.

The landscape though, not the people, is really the main character here — moist, verdant and warm. Much warmer than any of the characters (grown-up, at least) who cross the screen. While the Hunter is ostensibly about a solitary man contemplating nature and the people around him, the film gives the sense throughout that it's actually the whole of solitary nature that's contemplating a single man.

This town at the edge of the wilderness lives and dies on the whims of outsiders. Loggers dependent on timber firms, activists looking for government intervention, the activist's widow (Frances O'Connor) surviving with the support of their family friend (Sam Neill). And while the Hunter's loyalties shift — amongst his company, the wilderness and the residents of this small town — in the end, he makes a deal with the devil on behalf the tiny settlement. Just like everybody else.

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