Now Showing at: Cincinnati World Cinema, April 18-19
Review by: Larry Thomas
If you were a serious film buff back in the nineteen eighties, you no doubt experienced many titles that were the crown jewels of the Australian film industry renaissance. Many important films were big hits in the States, like My Brilliant Career, Breaker Morant, and The Man From Snowy River. Even the lowbrow Crocodile Dundee spawned two sequels and made a fistful of dollars worldwide. Over the years, things changed. Many of the homegrown Aussie talent moved on to Hollywood and elsewhere, and fewer new films from Down Under made it to our neck of the planet.
So it’s especially nice to report the arrival of a new Australian film called The Hunter. If you need to pigeon hole the plot, you might call it an eco-thriller. A very thorough soldier of fortune for hire is sent by a shadowy corporation into the wilds of Tasmania to track down the last surviving Tasmanian tiger in existence. But this is not any altruistic mission. The corporation wants the tiger killed, samples of its DNA extracted, and the remains obliterated so that no one else can find or use it. Many have tried, but none have succeeded. Something afoul is afoot, and not for the betterment of mankind. Sounds a bit Michael Chrichton-ish, doesn’t it.
The wonderfully talented Willem Dafoe plays The Hunter of the title. From his first important screen role in Streets Of Fire, through his career-best performance as Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, and on to today’s film, he manages to capture the essence of all characters he portrays. He possesses one of the most expressive faces in film today.
Australian actor Sam Neill is a grizzled and crusty guide who’s been assigned to find local lodgings for Dafoe. This is a complete 180 from his turn in Jurassic Park, but that’s a good thing for an actor to experience. Neill places Dafoe in a small house in a clearing occupied by a troubled mother and her two kids. The mother, played by British actress Frances O’Connor, is troubled because her husband vanished in search of the elusive tiger, and she has since turned to pills to salve her pain. Her young daughter is chatty and exuberant, and loves Bruce Springsteen, while the young boy is also troubled to the point of being mute. He communicates through drawings.
The most memorable thing about The Hunter is the scenery of the wilderness of Tasmania. In some scenes, it appears lush and green. In others, there are landscapes that might be a vision of a barren planet in another galaxy. Cinematographer Robert Humphries, known mostly for documentaries and shorts, displays the grandeur of this land that not too many of us may have visited.
And despite being thoughtful, intriguing, and wonderfully acted, there is one flaw with The Hunter. I’ve seen several movies lately that have much to offer, and then cap it with an unsatisfying ending. That’s too bad, but not bad enough to not recommend this film. It’s almost like the filmmakers reach a certain point, say, “Oops, we’re out of film” and finish in a rush. However, there’s much here that is satisfying, so seek out The Hunter. You will, for the most part, be rewarded.
The R-rated The Hunter is a presentation of Cincinnati World Cinema at the Carnegie Arts Center in Covington. Screenings are this Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7 pm. For more information, go to our website at wvxu.org for a link to Cincinnati World Cinema.