a review by Nalini Haynes
The Hunter is set in rural and wilderness Tasmania. Willem Dafoe plays Martin David, a mercenary who is hired to hunt down, kill and retrieve DNA samples of a Tasmanian Tiger. Although officially considered extinct, people sometimes claim to have seen a Tasmanian Tiger.
Upon arrival Martin meets Jack Mindy (Sam Neill), who takes him to Lucy Armstrong’s (Frances O’Connor) house where he is supposed to be housed when not in the bush. Lucy’s medication renders her semi-conscious, unfit to take care of her two children or the house.
Disgusted with the state of the house, Martin seeks accommodation elsewhere only to discover that locals won’t let him take a room at the local motel. Loggers think Martin is an academic from a university investigating the environment to stop logging of old-growth forests.
Martin returns to Lucy’s home, making the best of things and gradually, reluctantly, developing a relationship with Lucy and her children in between hiking in wilderness areas hunting the Tasmanian tiger.
The Hunter perfectly captures not only the beauty and the danger of the Tasmanian wilderness but also the political climate and the threat to the forests. Standing in a rainforest, surrounded by irreplaceable wilderness, Sam Neill and William Dafoe exchange lines emphasising that this beauty is destined for log mills. A few shots of logged areas don’t really convey the threat, however.
I’ve nearly wept when driving through north-west Tasmania, seeing the wholesale destruction of forests with only refuse left behind and, perhaps, a strip of trees one or two trees thick along the roadside in a vain attempt to obscure the devastation from the tourists. Huge logs are stripped of bark on camera; one might assume this timber is destined for furniture or essential construction but it’s destined for pulp mills, export and the paper market.
The threat to Greenies (conservationists) is revealed. Jarra Armstrong, Lucy’s husband, is missing, assumed dead in the bush after an inadequate search. Threatening behaviour from loggers shows other suspects. A group of loggers in three four-wheel drives appear at the Armstrong place, threatening the ‘hippies’ with shotguns. Only one shot is fired and no-one was beaten up; after Dr Bob Brown was beaten up in the main street of a town on the west coast of Tasmania during the south west dam protests, I felt this was an unrealistic outcome, but the event reinforced the danger to the protesters.
Jack Mindy asked Martin whether he found any Tasmanian Devils – Martin’s cover story while hunting tigers – on his first trip into the bush. After Martin said he had, Mindy asked if they were healthy. This scene was brilliantly acted, but the uninitiated may miss that Mindy knew Martin was lying because Martin said the devils were healthy. Tasmanian devils face possible extinction due to facial tumours that are, in reality, ravaging their species.
The Hunter is a movie juxtaposing incredible beauty with menace, the search for an almost mythological creature with brutal realism of the political, violent conflict between loggers and conservationists. The plot built well, with an outcome that kept me guessing until the end. I loved this movie: it showcased everything (outside of Hobart) that I love and hate about Tasmania, leaving me feeling both homesick and glad to have left.