Willem Dafoe, like actors Clint Eastwood, Marlon Brando and Liam Neeson, effortlessly commands an audience's attention, and easily carries a scene without speaking a word. In Australian import The Hunter, Dafoe is sent by a mysterious company to locate a rare Tasmanian tiger previously thought to be extinct. This task gives Dafoe plenty of time to wander the beautiful Tasmanian landscape, setting traps and tracking the possibly imaginary beast. The Hunter is a quiet movie, and Dafoe's interaction with a local family anchors the story, which is a bit thin despite several startling revelations. Ultimately, Dafoe's performance and the consequences of his haunting mission make The Hunter of interest.
Martin David (Dafoe) assures his handler he will find the Tasmanian tiger if it exists. The real animal, which looks like the hybrid of a Bengal tiger and a dingo, was officially labeled extinct in 1936, though reported sightings continue to this day. Martin lands in backwoods Tasmania, an Australian island, claiming to be a research professor, which angers the locals who assume he is there to challenge the logging industry that supports the town. Unable to secure a hotel room, Martin begins rooming with Lucy Armstrong (Frances O'Connor) and her children, Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock). Lucy's husband disappeared months before while searching for the same tiger, and her prescription-pill addiction keeps her in bed most of the day. Sam Neill plays Jack Mindy, another local who looks after Lucy and the kids, but enables her addiction. Martin is unsure how to handle Sass and Bike, whose innocence and curiosity eventually win him over, and he begins work on repairing the broken family in his spare time.
The thematic current of The Hunter weaves through the desperation of the down-and-out logging town, and sweeps up much collateral as Martin continues to track the tiger. Lucy stops taking pills and opens up to Martin, explaining the suspicious circumstances surrounding her husband's disappearance. The local loggers, including Jack, become increasingly hostile, as Martin refuses to explain his true intentions. Why Martin has been dispatched - and for whom - is important, and spells out his fate and that of his newfound family.
The Hunter spends some time in the quiet pursuit of Martin as he searches for his target in the nearby woods. When he is ready to pack it up and go home, Bike draws him a picture, claiming to know the location of the tiger. The Hunter culminates with some tough decisions for Martin, and who better to play the road-weary searcher than Dafoe, who appears at once haggard and virile. The Hunter is not an especially complex story, though it unspools without sympathy for Martin. Dafoe carries the film, but O'Connor and young Davies and Woodlock hold their own. The Hunter is a refreshing diversion to typical outward-bound thrillers, and trades gunplay for deliberate human drama.
The Hunter's 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is good but not without flaws. Things appear rather soft during the opening minutes of the film, but detail and texture improve as the narrative moves forward. There is also quite a bit of noise in early wide shots, but most of that is cleaned up later, too. Detail is often quite good in later scenes, particularly in close-ups of Dafoe or scenes in the thick underbrush. Black levels are solid, and the transfer appropriately replicates the film's drab color scheme and blown-out highlights. This is a thick, film-like transfer, and while it doesn't represent reference HD material, I suspect it is true to the filmmakers' intentions.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is solid, particularly the clarity. Soft, pensive scenes are as audible and well articulated as louder action pieces. Dialogue is clear, and the surrounds are used for ambient and action effects. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.
The disc's extras kick off with a standard Commentary from Director Daniel Nettheim and Producer Vincent Sheehan. Making of The Hunter (32:50/HD) is an excellent, four-part behind-the-scenes documentary, and the disc also includes some Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (6:39/HD), the film's theatrical trailer (2:26/HD) and BD-Live Access.
The Hunter prefers subtlety to staging a rumble in the jungle as Willem Dafoe searches for a rare tiger at the behest of a mysterious handler. Dafoe again delivers a deep, emotional performance, and opens up to the local family who boards him during his work in Tasmania. The story is somewhat simple, but the acting and unexpected consequences for Dafoe's character make The Hunter compelling. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.