The feature film debut from accomplished Australian television director Daniel Nettheim is based on a novel by Julia Leigh (yes, the writer/director of the 2011 oddity that was Sleeping Beauty). Willem Dafoe stars as Martin David, a tidy mercenary with a penchant for opera and baths. Martin’s current assignment is to travel to the island of Tasmania where he is to hunt down the last remaining Tasmanian tiger, an almost mythical creature that, if exploited, could be used as a biological weapon. Under the guise of a researcher from a foreign university, Martin holes up in a ramshackle country home with a fatherless family of two from where he sets out on a series of atmospheric explorations of the hilly, vegetation-filled countryside. He encounters the land’s indigenous creatures, both wild and local (the rowdy, xenophobic locals are wild in their own way) while establishing a bond with his young housemates and their recluse of a mother. Once actor Sam Neil shows up as a gruff guide to the land, a conspiracy is obviously afoot, which unravels in a manner that involves all of Martin’s encounters thus far. While the parallels that are established may seem obvious, neither our intrepid mercenary nor the elusive creature can survive without the harming of innocents, the performances are strong and the time spent with the local scenery is quite valuable. Throw in a brilliant and memorable scene featuring Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” and you’ve got one of the first must-see films of 2012.
The Hunter opens today at the Ritz Five.