The Hunter

Willem Dafoe takes aim in The Hunter


A movie for every day of the year – a good one




9 July




Queen Victoria creates Australia, 1900

On this day in 1900, the world’s sixth largest country was created by the Empress of India, Queen Victoria. It had of course existed since it broke away from Gondwana around 150-180 million years ago, and had been inhabited by various groups of indigenous “Australians” for at least 40,000 years. And collectively the landmass had been called Australia, or a variant on it, since before it had even been discovered – the Terra Australis Incognita (Unknown Land of the South) of legend. But Australia had never existed as a political entity. Starting out initially as just one colony in New South Wales, it had grown piecemeal to become five self-governing Crown colonies. On 9 July 1900 Royal Assent was given to an act formally uniting the colonies into one federal government, which took power on 1 January 1901.


The Hunter (2011, dir: Daniel Nettheim)

There are a lot of great reasons to like The Hunter, but the way director Daniel Nettheim builds and sustains tension has to be the main one. It’s a real “who is this man, what is he doing, and is he going to get out alive” thriller that drops us in to its story and lets us work things out for ourselves.

Some things we do know. We know that Willem Dafoe plays the shadowy “hunter” Martin, a man with a high-velocity rifle hired by a shady organisation to go and kill a Tasmanian Tiger, an animal reputed to already be extinct. And, er, that’s about it. No, hang on, the shadowy organisation wants some bit of the animal, so it can take its DNA and do something with it, something despicable, we guess. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is the man, the gun and the fact that at some point, if Martin doesn’t get the results that the mysterious Red Leaf outfit want, then he’s probably going to become extinct himself.

The quest, the struggle, is elemental, almost prehistoric, and Nettheim and Dafoe spend a lot of time putting us on the hunter’s side, introducing us slowly to Martin, showing us his skill as a hunter – saturating his clothes with wood smoke so the animals won’t smell him coming, for example. The film is similarly saturated with flavour and relationships. For a loner travelling incognito Martin gets about a bit – striking up an increasingly intimate relationship with a pretty mother (Frances O’Connor) and her children (including the remarkable Morgana Davies), or a more prickly one with the semi-affable local guide Jack (Sam Neill). As for the locals, a bitter and foul-mouthed bunch of dirt-poor yokels who don’t much go for the fancy ways of an outsider, they have a hickory pungency that adds to the sense of threat.

Peel back the flaps and the structure is Apocalypse Now or something biblical – the lone man going up a mountain in search of something mythical. But it’s a muddy Apocalypse Now, and we’re never quite sure if Martin is a good guy, though Dafoe’s wise broad face leads us to suggest there might be goodness in there. Possibly. This not-quite-knowingness is the film’s strongest suit, and Nettheim and writer Alice Addison tease us with genre expectations too – the tension of a thriller, the deferred money shot of a quest film, the tease of a fledgling romance, the threat of a borderland quasi-western, the righteousness of the eco-drama. Which will come out on top? Will Martin survive? Does the Tasmanian Tiger even exist? What is going on? Nettheim keeps us hanging on right to the very end.


Why Watch?


  • The primordial cinematography of Robert Humphreys
  • A performance of psychological nuance by Dafoe
  • The Tasmania settings
  • Morgana Davies, star in waiting



© Steve Morrissey 2014




The Hunter – Watch it now at Amazon




29 October 2012-10-29

Out in the UK This Week


The Hunter (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

There’s a totally immersive sense of place in this engrossing thriller starring Willem Dafoe as the titular hunter in kill-or-be-killed Australia. He’s some sort of badass eco-transgressor working for a rapacious global megacorp and he’s after the mythical and possibly mystical Tasmanian Tiger. Or is that a metaphor? Or is he actually not the hunter at all but instead the hunted? No spoilers. I will just say it’s a thriller and it’s structured like Apocalypse Now – one man, a quest, lots of delicious jeopardy.

 The Hunter – at Amazon

Your Sister’s Sister (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Grown-up mumblecore, a briskly paced love-triangle drama set out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, where indie darling Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, and the stratospherically excellent Rosemarie DeWitt indulge in some high-octane improv. The pace is brisk, it doesn’t wallow in the moments of emotionality where it could and it has the kind of folksy/indie soundtrack you’d kind of expect. Quietly excellent.

Your Sister’s Sister – at Amazon

London: The Modern Babylon (BFI, cert 15, DVD)

Michael Gambon narrates – and that’s reason enough to pick up this DVD – Julien Temple’s collage of archive newsreel, voiceover, feature film footage and interview going back to the dawn of cinematography. It’s part of a current fashion for mythologising London and it sits comfortably in what you’d call the modern orthodox view – London as melting pot, London as a welcome port for “the world and his wife” as one Cockney geezer puts it. Though a lot of the footage is familiar, Temple’s editing skills are formidable, and he has an ear for a song, old music hall favourites like “A Bit of What You Fancy Does You Good” sitting snugly alongside Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Hong Kong Garden”.

London: The Modern Babylon – at Amazon

Cockneys Vs Zombies (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Much more than just a title in search of a film, this British zom-com is an admirable addition to the genre and a right old laugh. It’s not going to rival Shaun of the Dead but there are a couple of good jokes (rival football-fan zombies choosing to have a go at each other rather than the available humans). And you get to hear Honor Blackman – now in her 80s but still able to stir a memory of Pussy Galore – use the F word. And there’s Richard Briers using an Uzi 9mm. And the gore is pretty funny too – as long as you don’t plan on eating a kebab anytime soon.

Cockneys Vs Zombies – at Amazon

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (StudioCanal, cert PG, DVD)

“I rode a lot with Buffalo Bill. He was very sweet.” It’s lines like that, uttered by Diana Vreeland, which get you immediately hooked into this documentary about her life. Who? The hard act that every fashion editor since has had to follow, Vreeland edited Harper’s Bazaar from 1937-62, then Vogue 1962-71. This access-most-areas documentary captures her glamour, pizzazz and quixotic progressive spirit. The name, incidentally, is pronounced “Dee-ahna”. Of course it is. And if you arrive at this homage clueless and faintly sniffy about fashion people, you might well leave better informed and extremely impressed, as I did.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel – at Amazon

A Royal Affair (Metrodome, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Mads Mikkelsen plays the doctor introducing Enlightenment ideas into the court of the 18th century Danish king, and himself into the queen, in this well cast, sumptuously appointed period drama with a tendency to replay history from the point of view of the winner, presenting the baddie as a silly old silly, the goodie (the winner, our man, ie us) as the repository of all wisdom. “You could be an amazing king,” says Mikkelsen’s earnest, noble, do-gooding doctor to the fey, possibly gay king who doesn’t know what to do with his queen and her fancy progressive ideas. On the one hand magic and monarchy, on the other democracy and rationalism. We’re in no doubt which is superior. Plus points include all of the cast, Mikkelsen especially, who are so much better than the script, also the cinematography, which is a thing of beauty, and Nikolaj Arcel’s direction, which, particularly towards the end of the film turns some of the exchanges into a tragic partita.

A Royal Affair – at Amazon

The Five Year Engagement (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A Judd Apatow production that makes you wonder if he’s losing enthusiasm for comedy. Ostensibly a romcom, it stars Emily Blunt and Jason Segel as  a couple who for one reason or another just can’t seem to make it to the altar. The stars mug gamely in what looks at first like an experimental rehash of When Harry Met Sally but on closer inspection is more like Forgetting Sarah Marshall but minus Russell Brand. And no, that’s not a good thing.

The Five Year Engagement – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2012