TIFF 2011: THE HUNTER Review

     September 10, 2011

At its outset, Daniel Nettheim’s The Hunter looks like it will be a beautifully shot, methodically-paced, and thoughtful twist on the hit-man genre.  What if instead of tasking an assassin with taking out a single person, a killer is hired to take out a species?  Not for fun, mind you, but because that last animal could potentially hold valuable compounds in its blood, organs, skin, or hair.  Coupled with dangers of how one goes about moving a species from endangered to extinct, there’s plenty of room to not only show the methods of a hunter, but also the moral questions raised by his actions.  Nettheim ignored all of this potential in favor of forcing awkward sentimentality that ranges from the unbelievable to the downright creepy.

the-hunter-movie-posterMartin David (Willem Dafoe) is hired by the Red Leaf Corporation to hunt down and harvest the Tasmanian Tiger.  The animal was thought to be extinct but there have been unconfirmed sightings in the past year.  David must not only track down the animal but he must also keep an eye out for other hunters.  Since he also can’t go to Tasmania and say “Hey, I’m here to kill off a species,” he goes under the cover of a university student and while that cover helps for legal matters, it earns him the ire of the locals. They believe he’s going to kill their logging industry by finding a rare plant or animal and turning the land into a nature preserve. It’s a reasonable fear since logging is the only industry keeping the town afloat.

There’s a great conflict wound up into all of this and the movie’s best moments come from watching David quietly set his traps, make notes on his map, and try to deduce the tiger’s location all while having the sneaking suspicion thathe’s the one being hunted.  Nettheim may not have understood that when you have Willem Dafoe, an actor who can hold the screen even if he’s the only one on it, you don’t need to throw his character into a tired and unrealistic family drama.

David is put up to stay with a local family comprised of adorable children Sass (Morgana Davies), her mute little brother, and their catatonic mother Lucy (Frances O’Connor).  The movie opens with the obvious assertion that David is alone in the world.  But The Hunter desperately feels the need to put him into the role of surrogate father and husband.  It’s a movie almost completely separate from the one about hunting and it’s also a far weaker one.  The film reminds us that nothing melts an icy heart faster than the innocence of children even though there father went missing and their mother is drugged up and in bed all day.

Because the movie cares more about David as replacement husband/father, there’s no time to gradually build his relationship with his host family.  He’s a little cold to the kids in their first few scenes together, but then he sees they’re alright so he goes to wake up their mother.  He pulls her out of bed and then proceeds to bathe her as the kids help.  Granted, the bathing isn’t sensual and it comes off as something done more for hygiene than anything else, but the simple truth remains: David takes a drugged-up woman he’s never spoken to out of her bed, strips her naked, and proceeds to give her a bath.  That’s weird and it’s unbelievable that after Lucy sobers up she’s grateful to David rather than conflicted or upset about the event.


The attempt to force the new father identity gets downright creepy later in the film when he’s taking a bath and the kids, who are also naked, hop in with him because they don’t want to let the hot water go to waste.  If you are a man, and you are naked in a bath, and kids that aren’t yours hop in the bath with you, you immediately get out of the bath, towel up, and leave the room.  You don’t tell the kids to get out of the bath (as David does) and you don’t try to explain to them how strange it would look if their mother walked in (as David does).  It’s as if Nettheim thought, “We really need David to be the surrogate father/husband and there’s no time to second guess how this is going to happen.”

Pursing this simplistic and maudlin plotline causes The Hunter to forget everything that makes it special.  It would be far more interesting to see how a man confronts his loneliness and identity in the wilderness as both the hunter and the hunted than to see how no man is truly an island if he has a warm bath and the love of someone else’s wife and kids.

Rating: C-

For all of our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my TIFF 2011 reviews so far:

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  • rob

    funniest and most true thing I’ve read all week

    If you are a man, and you are naked in a bath, and kids that aren’t yours hop in the bath with you, you get the fuck out of the bath, towel up, and leave the room.

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  • Oskars

    Hawe you ever been in country side for a few weeks, with no substantial amount of hot water to bathe in?
    I suppose not, so i can say that in context it is aOK for kids to participate in bathing, naked or not.
    Not ewery one is a Pedofile you cnow.

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  • The Wizard

    So, just because the film makers don’t share YOUR particular values system, that means the movie is flawed? WOW! Is it possible to be a bit more conceited, Mr. Goldberg? OBVIOUSLY you have never traveled outside North America, or you would know that in MANY countries, bathing is not a private thing. Ever heard of Japan or Greece? I have never personally been to Tasmania, but it may be commonplace for people to bathe together there. It would seem that Mr Defoe’s CHARACTER in this movie is more intelligent and well-traveled than you.
    This is a nice movie, and the scene you are belittling helps illustrate the cultural differences between “Martin” and his hosts.
    Perhaps, Mr Goldberg, instead of reviewing movies, you should be trying to find a really good surgeon to help remove your head from your posterior.
    Don’t belittle things just because YOU don’t understand them. That would be a LOT of things to belittle.

    • Subliminal Portal

      Well said! Not only was this a good movie, but the ending did pull some tears from me. I think Morgana Davies made her footprint on the world of acting when she played the little girl in this film. Unfortunately, there will always be people who get easily offended by anything that may appear to them as unconventional in their comfort zone.

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  • Subliminal Portal

    I saw this movie from beginning to end. I’m not mindless to the probability that the scene in which the kids jump naked into the bathtub while William Dafoe is bathing would raise a few eyebrows here and there. However, I don’t think Mr. Dafoe’s character handled the situation poorly. Most adult men would be shocked and taken off guard if something like that were to happen in real life, and they probably would not know what to do at first to set those kids straight. There was actually no harm done in that scene. In fact, it was somewhat humorous, because you actually sensed that William Dafoe’s character was in a Catch-22 situation. He didn’t want to jump out of the bathtub and then towel up, because he didn’t want the kids to see him naked. On the other hand, these kids just wouldn’t go away and leave him be while he was bathing. Moreover, he was unable to get angry at them, because they were really nice kids; they were just obviously a little more backwoods than he had expected. Morgana Davies, the Australian actress who played the girl, was a little firecracker in this movie. She would do some unbelievable things; but instead of one finding them annoying, one usually ended up finding them cute. The bathtub scene was no different in that respect. This is not the first time that movie producers have crossed lines of this nature and have stirred up some emotions among the more conservative members of movie audiences. A couple of months ago on Turner Classic Movie, the announcer Robert Osborne commented that he didn’t believe that the 1974 German film “Alice In The Cities” could ever be made today. His comment was not without qualification but still without definite conclusion. There was a somewhat questionable scene in “Alice In The Cities” in which the 9-year old female protagonist Alice was sunbathing with nothing on but just her underpants, and she was in the company of a 30-something year old male photographer named Philip Winter. To top of it, the little girl went over to this woman and asked her if she thought Philip Winter looked like he was her father. I thought for sure that the adult woman was going to go over and punch out Philip Winter. However, instead, she walked over to him to invite him and the little girl to stay at her place overnight. Germans don’t seem to take issue with such minor indiscretions. Also, anyone who saw the more recent movie “Orphan” and watched the scene in which this seemingly 9-year old girl was wearing heavy makeup and attempting to seduce her adoptive father would wonder how in the world the movie producers were able to slip that scene under the radar of all the censorship that goes on in the film industry. Films reflect reality, and reality cannot be candy-coated if a movie producer wants to make him film a success.